My College:
Dear Adina

Wishing I Heard More Often from My Student

Adina Glickman


Dear Adina,

What is the appropriate frequency that you should check in with your college student if you are not hearing from them?

...and a related question...

Dear Adina,

How do you encourage a college-aged young man to be a better communicator with his parents and sibling? (My biggest current challenge with my son!)


Dear Parents,

Communication is the currency of human interaction. What we say to each other (and whether we say it with respect or disdain, love or indifference) is an essential ingredient of our relationships with parents, siblings, professors, employers, lovers, friends and foes.

Our communication has the capacity to strengthen, weaken, distance or bring closer the people we relate to. And our choices about communication demonstrate our autonomy and agency as individuals. Communication is everything.

Unfortunately, many of us take for granted that once we’ve learned communication basics like, “I’d like a grilled cheese on whole wheat, please” we’re all set. Putting in my lunch order at a diner is pretty straightforward, and the relationship I have with my server is clearly defined. But if I’m a college student home on spring break talking to my mother, I’ll be lucky if she doesn’t throw the block of cheese at my head.

The question of how (and how much) college students should communicate with parents and siblings is an important one. Here are some guidelines I recommend:

HOW

1. Ground rules of kindness and respect

Regardless of what we’re feeling inside, how we speak to other people should always remain grounded in an intention of courtesy and dignity. No being mean, or using words, volume or tone to diminish, shame, injure or humiliate. If you can’t control these variables, go someplace and breathe until you get a grip.

Pro tip: Anything that you MUST SAY RIGHT THIS MINUTE is probably the least mature part of you wanting to talk. Make it wait until you can take a breath, get some perspective, and then deliver your words with intention and clarity.

2. No triangulating

No, your college student doesn’t get to send messages to their siblings through you. No, you and your partner aren’t interchangeable and thus cannot be each others’ spokesperson.

Though you’re probably really good at paving the communication roads between people, it’s time to get out of the way and insist that they speak to one another for themselves.

People need to practice using their own voices. If your younger children want more from their college sibling, encourage them to speak directly with that sibling. They can even role play or practice with you first, starting with, “Hey bro, I’d like to talk to you more.” Similarly, if one parent wants more communication, it’s up to them to express that to the student and not have the other parent run interference.

3. Saying is better than doing

“I hate you, I hate you, I hate you” is a common sentiment hurled between siblings, and sometimes from children to parents. (And sometimes parents even think of saying it to their children but are able to control that momentary impulse.)

While not ideal, it’s better to hurl words than fists. If the feelings are so strong that physical action must be taken, perhaps a turn-on-the-heel, head-to-their-room, slam-the-door exit is warranted, as long as the slamming of the door doesn’t break any windows (been there, not fun).

Pro tip: Feelings change.

4. No serious discussion after dark

Everything is scarier at night, and when we’re more tired we’re more likely to speak irresponsibly. It’s truly okay to table a discussion that has a lot of emotion in it until daylight.

HOW MUCH

1. “I need” vs. “You should”

Your desire for your children to communicate more with one another, or for your children to communicate more with you, may be more about what you need than what they need. As we watch our children become more independent, they start to communicate less with us, as they should. How you feel about that deserves attention, but not necessarily from your children.

But when you see poor communication between siblings as problematic — one child feels neglected by their college sibling or you observe that poor communication is at the root of a conflict — it’s fine to sit everyone down together and share your observations.

2. Who gets to control things

Teens and young adults are testing boundaries and trying on their new sense of being in charge of themselves. This means they get to choose who they speak to and how much.

When it comes to communicating with you, ask them how much contact they want and let them know how much you want with the full knowledge that you may be disappointed. Our desire for more contact with our kids can be more about needing reassurance that they’re okay than it is about the mutual needs of the adult-to-adult relationship.

3. Less is sometimes plenty

It’s very hard to go from 24/7 contact with your teen to a once-every-week-or-so call with your college student. So consider this new amount and frequency of contact as a step along the way to a future that’s still being constructed.

I’ve gone through times in my adult life when I talked to my mother a couple of times a week. And I’ve gone through times when we’ve only spoken once a month or so. In between those phone calls, she’s still my mother and she knows I love her. And I know she loves me because part of how she does that is to encourage me to live my life.

What we say, what we don’t say, when we say things and how we say them contribute powerfully to the quality of our connections. If communication is everything, the quality of our connection is everything else.

Yours,

Adina Signature

Have a question? Ask Adina

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 affinitycoachinggroup.com.
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    1 week ago
    CollegiateParent

    “Stop acting like a girl!”

    Words that I used repeatedly to “admonish” my eldest child when she was younger. How I wish I could take them back. How I wish I never uttered any one of them. How I wish I never felt the need to say such words. How I wish I never felt the need to make her feel anything but whole. How I wish…

    Last week during her final recital at the New England Conservatory of Music, she gave me accolades, lots of them. The audience gave me a special ovation and my heart was happy, but I didn’t miss it. While she praised me for supporting her music career from the jump, she didn’t mention my name when it came to her gender, her transition, and her true self.

    As I sit and write this, my heart is heavy and sad. It is filled with tears unshed, words unspoken, hugs ungiven, love unshared. I am filled with emotions. Why did I not affirm her when she was younger? Why was my heart closed to seeing her the way she really was? Why did I allow fear to reign and rain on me?

    It has been 2 years since my eldest child who was assigned male at birth shared about her non-binary gender and they/them pronouns, and 5 months since she shared about her transgender identity and she/her pronouns. And 2 weeks since she shared her new name with me.

    Even though I am relieved because it is all now out in the open, I am still sad, and in mourning. I am scared stiff about the unknown. She has begun transitioning, taking her Estrogen pills and Testosterone blockers. She is “finally free” to be her real self as she said in her closing speech. I can never imagine what that must feel like.

    I cannot even begin to envision what it means to finally live free! She said the other day on the phone that our home was very transphobic when she was a child. I wish I had never played a role in that. But I did. And that is why with tears rolling down my cheeks, I implore you to read these words with an open heart.

    You are a vessel to bring your child into this earth. You are their first love, and they are an extension of your heart. Loving them is a must. Understanding that they are individuals is a must. Allowing them to become who they are is a must.

    Be careful not to think or plan too far ahead. Enjoy their here and now. Rethink the thoughts you allow in your head, the words you say out of your mouth, and the way you act and treat them in your home.

    Several days ago, I sent her a text message where I told her just how proud I am of her and her insistence on living her truth regardless of what anyone else thought.

    I ended the text with “I just want you to know that I have always wanted a daughter”, to which she replied “You have always had a daughter”.

    By Dr. Lulu
    ... See MoreSee Less

    “Stop acting like a girl!”  Words that I used repeatedly to “admonish” my eldest child when she was younger. How I wish I could take them back. How I wish I never uttered any one of them. How I wish I never felt the need to say such words. How I wish I never felt the need to make her feel anything but whole. How I wish…  Last week during her final recital at the New England Conservatory of Music, she gave me accolades, lots of them. The audience gave me a special ovation and my heart was happy, but I didn’t miss it. While she praised me for supporting her music career from the jump, she didn’t mention my name when it came to her gender, her transition, and her true self.  As I sit and write this, my heart is heavy and sad. It is filled with tears unshed, words unspoken, hugs ungiven, love unshared. I am filled with emotions. Why did I not affirm her when she was younger? Why was my heart closed to seeing her the way she really was? Why did I allow fear to reign and rain on me?  It has been 2 years since my eldest child who was assigned male at birth shared about her non-binary gender and they/them pronouns, and 5 months since she shared about her transgender identity and she/her pronouns. And 2 weeks since she shared her new name with me.  Even though I am relieved because it is all now out in the open, I am still sad, and in mourning. I am scared stiff about the unknown. She has begun transitioning, taking her Estrogen pills and Testosterone blockers. She is “finally free” to be her real self as she said in her closing speech. I can never imagine what that must feel like.  I cannot even begin to envision what it means to finally live free! She said the other day on the phone that our home was very transphobic when she was a child. I wish I had never played a role in that. But I did. And that is why with tears rolling down my cheeks, I implore you to read these words with an open heart.  You are a vessel to bring your child into this earth. You are their first love, and they are an extension of your heart. Loving them is a must. Understanding that they are individuals is a must. Allowing them to become who they are is a must.  Be careful not to think or plan too far ahead. Enjoy their here and now. Rethink the thoughts you allow in your head, the words you say out of your mouth, and the way you act and treat them in your home.  Several days ago, I sent her a text message where I told her just how proud I am of her and her insistence on living her truth regardless of what anyone else thought.  I ended the text with “I just want you to know that I have always wanted a daughter”, to which she replied “You have always had a daughter”.  By Dr. Lulu

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    Your daughter’s smile in this picture is everything!

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