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How to Check In with Your College Freshman without Driving Her Crazy

It’s officially Fall now, and kids everywhere have been back to school for at least a few weeks. For parents who sent kids off to college this year (especially for the first time), those few weeks they’ve been gone can feel more like an eternity. I’m sure there are countless moms and dads who are missing their sons and daughters and wishing for ways to connect with them even though they’re far away.

I’m not yet a parent, but I was once a college student at a university several hours from home, and I know what it was like to have parents that missed me and wanted to know everything about my new life.

You’ve probably heard the term "helicopter parent" -- they're the ones who hover constantly, never leaving the orbit of their child, always wanting to be close and connected and involved. The heart behind the hovering is good, but for a college student, a parent who wants to know everything all the time can come across as overpowering and annoying. Not what you were going for, right?

Here are some great ideas for checking in with your college kid without being "that crazy parent":

  1. Send a care package in the mail. There are few things more exciting than popping into the mail room on campus to find a package slip waiting for you. I know at my university, there was always a line of students waiting to claim their packages, and it made me so happy when I got to join them. The surprise of not knowing what I was about to open was always a joy, especially after a hard exam or a stressful day of studying. Include a note, some favorite snacks, and something sentimental (like a family photo or a trinket from a trip) too. It was a great way for my folks to let me know they were thinking of me! And, bonus -- I always called them right away to thank them, which I know made them even happier!
  2. Send a short and sweet text message. Having a busy schedule with classes, meetings, group projects, and other activities meant I rarely was free to answer my phone if my parents called. Instead of playing a frustrating game of phone tag and leaving voicemails that will likely go unheard, just send a text message that your kid can read when they have a minute. Make sure not to load it up with a bunch of questions, though, and just keep it brief. They’ll (hopefully) reply when they can, and you can touch base easily and quickly.
  3. Plan a short weekend visit around a meal. There are few things college students appreciate more than a good meal, so coordinate a time that you can visit and share a meal together, either on campus or in the local area. Be sure to work with their schedule so it doesn’t feel like a burdensome activity, and let your student choose the location so they can be excited to share their new world with you. Maybe there’s a great local brunch spot (my college town had an amazing pancake place!) or a fun themed dinner at the campus dining hall that’s open to guests-- be open to whatever your kid suggests. If you have room, invite a few of their friends to join as well! You’ll get to see the people that matter to your child, and they’ll get the added bonus of seeing you while also getting to spend time with their new pals.
  4. Pray for them during exam weeks and midterms. I distinctly remember my first exam week of college. I was stressed and sleep-deprived, and I called my mom on more than one occasion to vent about it all. She asked about the times of my tests, and before each one, she sent me texts that she was praying for me and that she loved me. It was such a comfort to know that I was being covered in prayer when I was overwhelmed, and that reminder that she loved me regardless of what grade I got helped me focus on what really mattered. If she had asked me all about how they were going, how I was studying, and what I was getting tested on, I probably would have been even more frazzled, but her prayers were exactly what I needed.
  5. Be open, aware, and approachable. Your college student is figuring out her own way in the world now, but she still needs her parents in her corner. Be sure to communicate to her that you love her unconditionally, and that you’re there for her always. If she’s struggling in any way, your love and support is what she needs more than any advice or judgment. You won’t be able to protect her from everything bad at college, but you can affirm the good and encourage her to make wise decisions. 

There’s no perfect way to be a parent to a new college student, as it’s a challenging season for both the kids and adults alike. Your relationship will shift and evolve as your son or daughter comes more into their own as an adult, but it can be a beautiful and exciting time of growth for everyone. 

Leave the flying of the helicopters to the pilots-- what your freshman needs most is just to know that you’re there and you love them! Breathe deep and know that God is with them even when you can’t be. 

Parents-- any other advice you would share to moms and dads with college freshmen?

Written by Rachel Dawson, editor for Sponsored by Liberty University, training champions for Christ since 1971; and Liberty University Online, the largest Christian university in the world with over 200 online programs. 

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Publication date: September 29, 2016


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