In his ongoing series, “Your Child Has Been Accepted,” Scott Garbini focuses on how to talk to your child; this child who you believe knows nothing about real life, and yet thinks they know everything.
How do you talk to your child? No, really communicate with your child… This lovely creature who used to leave towels on the bathroom floor and forget to turn off lights has suddenly morphed into this omnipotent, citizen of the world who knows everything about everything. In my previous blog, which discussed stressors that face new college students, “red flags” and “warning signs” were highlighted. But how do you now glean information from your child to find out if there are any issues about which to be worried?
The irony is that despite the fact that you may be paying the bills, your child now has the right to bar you from having any access to their academic or personal life at college. The college now considers your child a responsible adult. The FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act) – sometimes referred to as The Buckley Amendment – was designed to protect the privacy of educational records, and to establish the rights of students to inspect and review these. Simply put, you cannot look up their grades, see whether or not they have attended class, discover if they have been put on academic probation, or if any disciplinary action has been taken. The school considers such communication as a ‘family issue,’ not a college one – so now it’s up to you.
Let’s begin with what not to do. Do not be a helicopter parent. Those days are over, and it’s time to cut the cord. Do not steal your child’s portal login information; not only are they so more technologically advanced than you, and once they discover it you will have broken trust, but it sends the message that they are not competent. (We won’t get into the fact that you are breaking federal laws.) Do not ask vague, open-ended questions such as, “How was your day?” – be specific. Try this, “I know you had your Biology Lab today and you don’t like Lab, how’d you do?” This begins an honest, targeted dialogue about an area they have described as stressful. This type of question shows that you were listening when they first brought up this concern, and that you are being supportive if things did not go well. From here you can discern if they just don’t like the lab teacher, or the activities, or there is a bigger issue regarding their academic choice (i.e. They have declared Biology as a major and it’s time to regroup). Don’t feed them worries. Phrases like, “Do you miss being home?” or “I know you don’t like lab, but try not to stress too much, more stress will be coming.” only give them something about which to worry!
Now, here’s what you should be doing. Be understanding. Your child will make mountains out of molehills – and molehills out of mountains. You need to ebb and flow with things they find important, or not so important. Remember, you’ve moved from the driver’s seat to the passenger. And although it’s like one of those driver’s education cars with two steering wheels, you still need to buckle up. Listen. Not “hear’ – LISTEN. Sometimes they just want to vent and not have you try to fix things. They are transitioning into full independence and it is your job to be more of a sounding board than a giver of advice – unless specifically asked. Initiate communication – and understand if it’s not reciprocated as much as you’d like. Write, call, text, send silly gifts and those end-of-semester survival packages. You are their constant in this changing phase of their life. Seeing that you are there gives them grounding and a sense of comfort. They may not admit it at the time, but most college graduates will share stories of how they got through that break up with their boyfriend, or their lousy grade on the English exam because of some random act from their parents. Most of all – Pay attention. Through productive communication you will be able to discern what are legitimate stressors upon which you should probe and possibly take action, and which are just passing scenarios for which they simply need a supportive and/or comforting ear.
Expect change. Your child is evolving into an adult. They are making their own choices – for good or ill – and will need your support as they navigate through the waters. It won’t always be easy, but if you can be there in a positive and supportive way, the rest will fall into place.
This series, “Your Child Has Been Accepted, Now What?” has covered Social Awareness, Scholastic Responsibility, Stressors, and Communication as it relates to the new college student. Look for a new topic and series next month.