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What Are My Parental Rights When My Child Goes to College?

Adina Glickman

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Dear Adina,

Having a relationship with my 17-year-old freshman is severely discouraged by the other parent and the parent's spouse for several years, although I've managed to stay informed of their education. Until my child realizes the other parent's alienating tactics have been unjustifiable, how can I stay informed of their education, now that my child is in college? And what department would be contacted for access, which I have a parental legal right to?

Dear Parent,

I feel for you. Our connection with our children is visceral and relentless. It’s bad enough when they just grow up and live their own lives! But when that separation is surrounded by the acrimony of divorce and the confusion of parenting en masse, it can be spectacularly painful.

Until high school graduation, you’ve been able to stay connected by knowing what’s happening in their education, which I imagine was facilitated by teachers. That will change now.

According to FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), upon admission to college, your child is considered an “eligible student” whose educational information is protected. This means that even though the student is only 17, their status as a college student makes them legally an adult in this arena. Information about their education is thus protected by FERPA and can only be released with their permission.

Schools may disclose what’s called “directory information” including the student's name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance. But what courses they’re enrolled in, what their grades are, etc. are not shared with parents unless the student gives consent.

So, the short answer is that staying informed of your student’s education will be possible if they agree to share information with you. The same is true for their other parents. Whatever department you reach out to (registrar’s office, academic advising, deans, etc.) they will be sympathetic but likely not budge. If there is a specific concern, for example you suspect your child is failing a class, most college staff are kind but firm. They’ll give the parent general information about resources available to the student. They may also share more generally how they’ve handled situations similar to yours or your student’s in the past.

If your child decides not to share information, you will be in excellent company with millions of parents who feel shut out of their kids’ lives once they head off to college. But you are also dealing with the additional wrinkle of already being somewhat (or completely?) shut out because of the complex dynamics of your relationship with your student’s other parents. Oddly enough, my advice is the same for you as it is for any other parent: give love, ask for nothing in return.

How do you do that? You send cards and letters that say “I love you!” and “I hope college is awesome!” and “Let me know if there’s anything you need or want from me.” You send care packages with delightful treats they will enjoy and share with friends. And then you go about living your life.

And that’s about it. Your friends and family may have to tie you to a chair to prevent you from doing more. You’ll want to text your student. You’ll want to know if they got the package. You’ll want to know if they liked the homemade cookies. Resist! Just know they LOVED whatever you sent, and they especially liked that you didn’t follow up.

The most important thing is to be truthful with yourself about why you’re sending those cards and care packages. Many parents I’ve coached get their own needs for validation and appreciation tangled up in their relationship with their kids. I have found myself plenty of times wanting props from my son or stepson about some nice thing I did for them only to pause and remember that they don’t owe me a thing.

Kids can be super sensitive about boundaries. They might interpret even the most gentle inquiry as us trying to insinuate ourselves into their business. Checking in to see how things are going can backfire as they try to establish a new identity as Young Adult rather than My Parents’ Child. I can recall many times when I’ve reached out to one of my boys “so they know I love them” but actually because I was feeling deprived of their company. They seem to know, too, and don’t respond when they get the slightest whiff of neediness.

Kids know the difference between parental expressions of love and connection that have no strings attached and those that are actually demands for attention and reciprocity.

Trust that your child’s connection with you is as visceral and relentless as yours is with them, and that you will find your way to one another as you both grow and change. And feel free to bake cookies.


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Adina Glickman is the founder of Affinity Coaching Group, which offers academic, life, parenting and career coaching. She is the former director of learning strategies at Stanford University and is the co-founder and director of the Academic Resilience Consortium, an association of faculty, staff and students dedicated to understanding and promoting student resilience. Learn more at
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