How to be Supportive of a Family Member at College


For those of you who have a family member (son, daughter, spouse, significant other) attending college, remember that both they and you are taking on new roles, and with any new roles there will be some adjustment. We will note some issues you may face and some suggestions on how to make the adjustments less stressful for all of you. These suggestions were prepared by students, parents of students, and professional staff.

First, remember that just by attending a New Student Orientation or workshop, you are already showing your support for your student to attend college. If it is your son or daughter attending college, recognize that your "child" is now an adult and needs to be allowed adult experiences, responsibilities, and privileges. Changes are part of the growth process. Studies show that 90% of values are formed in childhood years. If your son or daughter strays from your value system, remember that there is a good chance they will eventually return to it, though perhaps in their own modified and individualized way. Don't be afraid of their new beliefs - they are trying to develop their own identity as adults.

Problems a student might encounter

Students entering college may encounter problems similar to, but also different from, those they experienced when entering high school or community college.

  1. Stress from an unfamiliar environment, meeting new people, fears that college professors demand more, exams, term papers, not being able to find a space in the parking lot
  2. Time management: You may need to change or rearrange expectations for family obligations, household duties, etc. Your student may not be able to baby-sit a sibling if they need to study for an exam. While an instructor may not take attendance, the student is still expected to show up for class.
  3. Irregular hours: Class schedules are different in college. A student may not have any classes on a Tuesday or Thursday but that doesn't mean they are "free" (they need time for studying, using the library, computer lab, etc.). The rule is generally to plan for two hours of study time for each hour of class. For some subjects, more time may be required.
How will their relationship with you be affected by college?
  • You may feel alienated or even envious of their new learning experiences or new relationships.
  • Their developing independence may feel threatening, especially if it seems they no longer need you or seek your advice. Try to remember that they are in a period of transition and experimentation, and it will help if you can be supportive during their mood and attitude changes.
  • It may seem that they have less or little interest in family (or couple) relationships. This doesn't mean that they feel less love or concern, but rather that their focus of attention has temporarily shifted to new experiences and challenges.
  • Interpersonal or familial conflicts may emerge as a result of the stresses and demands of college life, but exciting and rewarding results are equally possible.
How to minimize conflicts caused by changes upon entering college
  • Try to share new learning experiences and grow together. Don't be threatened by their college education and their desire to share new knowledge and ideas. Their exposure to a vast array of new information does not undermine the importance of your own life experience.
  • As a parent of a student, this is a time to start viewing your relationship as more of a partnership based on mutual respect, rather than the traditional parent/child relationship. Listen to them and take them seriously. Don't try and minimize problems by saying "everyone has those feelings." If there is a conflict, openly share your concerns and try to discover the real source of the problem. It is often not what it appears to be on the surface.
  • Try to discuss and clarify your expectations vs. your student's expectations regarding choice of major, grades, and role as a family member (or spouse or parent). Are they the same or different? Do you need to make compromises or new agreements?
  • College students need positive reinforcement from family members. Remember, for example, that a student who got A's in high school may get B's or C's in the same college subject, especially in their first or second term. This doesn't mean they aren't smart or capable, but rather need time to adjust to new standards of performance.
Resources available on campus

The Career Center provides a broad range of counseling, career, and employment services to students, which include:

  • Individual Career Counseling Appointments

  • Career Development
    • Choosing a Major or Career
    • Preparing for Graduate School
    • Career Workshops
  • Recruitment Events
    • Job Fairs and Events
    • Job Search Help
    • On-Campus Interviews
    • Resume Services

See the Student section of our website for more information.

Final thoughts…

Sometimes the best support you can offer is by reminding the student that there are people on campus who want to help them succeed and reminding them that you want them to succeed.

En espanol: Apoyando al miembro de su familia que esta en la Universidad

Trate de compartir nuevas experiencias y de tener crecimiento mutuo. No se sienta amenazado por la educacion Universitaria de el estudiante o sus deseos de compartir nuevas ideas. Que ellos sean expuestos a mucha informacion nueva no quiere decir que las experiencias suyas no sean valiosas. Que ellos cuestionen sus ideas o valores no quiere decir que los estan rechasando. 90% de los valores se acuden antes de cumplir los 18 anos. Pero el crecimiento individual se adquiere haciendo preguntas e identificando cuales van a ser las ideas y los valores personales. Si parece que se van desviando de los valores que usted les inculco, recuerde que es probable que en su tiempo regresaran a ellos, aunque los modifiquen a su manera.

Este es el tiempo de empezar a ver su relacion con el estudiante como una relacion de companerismo basado en el respeto mutuo, en vez de la relacion tradicional entre padre e hijo o entre esposo y esposa.

Escuchelo y tomelo en serio. Trate de no disminuir sus problemas diciendo "toda la jente siente eso." Si hay algun conflicto, comparta lo que le preocupa abiertamente y trate de descubrir la raiz de el problema. Tal vez resulte que no tiene nada que ver con lo que uno ve en la superficie.

Trate de descutir y clarificar lo que usted espera y lo que su hijo, hija o esposo/a espera en cuanto a:

  • Especializacion Escolar
  • Calificaciones
  • Su responsabilidad en cuanto a ser miembro de la familia
  • Que carrerra escojen

Estudiantes Universitarios necesitan mucho apoyo positivo y apoyo emocional de la familia (como lo necesitamos todos). Recuerde, por ejemplo, que los estudiantes que sacaron "A" en la Preparatoria tal vez no saquen "A" en la Universidad especialmente durante el primero y segudo semestre. Esto no quiere decir que no son capaz o inteligentes pero que se estan ajustando a las nuevas situaciones y requisitos de la Universidad que le enfrentan. Recuerdele cuanto lo quiere y que lo apoya. Si es apropiado, recuerdele de los servicios de apoyo que tienen a su desposicion en la escuela.

No crea que tiene que tener todas las respuestas: nadie las tiene. Solamente haga lo mejor que puede. Recuerde estos consejos y de vez en cuando recuerdeselos al estudiante.

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