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Dealing with Extra Anxiety as You Send a Student to College This FallMarybeth Bock, MPH
It’s rare these days to find a college or university that doesn't have a Parent or Family Facebook Group attached to it.
In fact, many schools have multiple groups, ranging from Parents of Newly Admitted Students to larger, more general groups for adult family members of any student, to class specific groups depending on what year your student is.
Some of these groups are run by paid employees of the college, while others rely on volunteer parent administrators. Sometimes family members are notified that such social media groups exist as soon as their student is offered a spot at the school; in other cases, parents discover their existence during orientation or from friends or acquaintances who are already members.
These parent and family groups are private and typically have community rules including things like being kind and courteous, not engaging in hate speech or bullying, and respecting members' privacy. Screenshotting or sharing posts publicly on other platforms is not allowed, and violating any of the rules can get members banned from the page.
For most parents of a new college student, a Facebook group of like-minded people seems like a wonderful resource. And in most instances, it is — particularly if this is your first child heading off to college or you're sending them to an out-of-state (OOS) school and are unfamiliar with the campus and surrounding area.
Parent groups are full of helpful, school-specific information that you can quickly and easily access, sometimes making it simpler to find answers from fellow parents rather than combing through the school’s entire website.
I spoke with fellow college parents from around the country; here are some of the Facebook group resources we have found most helpful:
1. What to expect as far as logistics and practices surrounding first-year roommate selection, move-in days, Family Weekend and graduation. These situations can seem overwhelming to families who have never participated in them and guidance from those who have gone before is extremely useful. Curious to know the dimensions of your student’s dorm closet? There’s likely a parent out there who has pictures and measurements to share.
2. Local resource information such as recommended medical professionals, restaurant and shopping options, and services that deliver things like birthday cakes or drug store necessities to campus housing. During my daughter’s first year of college, I was amazed to discover on the parent Facebook page that there was a student organization that delivered hot chicken soup to sick students in on-campus housing.
3. The exchange of tutoring information, should your student want to offer or take advantage of peer tutoring.
4. How to purchase or exchange tickets for school athletic and arts events, along with logistical tips on parking and transportation (a burning topic at some universities).
5. Particulars surrounding student travel that a first-year student may encounter, such as shuttle or ride-sharing options to/from campus and nearby airports or bus and train stations. It's common practice for kind, local parents to offer students rides, deliveries of essential items, and even a room for a night should they miss a flight.
But unfortunately, these groups sometimes encourage detrimental parenting practices. Here's how that can happen:
1. Parents posting questions when their student could easily find answers through school-provided resources or by reaching out to fellow students. Common inquiries include, “When does fall break start? When do kids register for next semester?" "What’s an easy science General Ed class my kid can take?" "Who should my freshman talk to if they don’t like their roommate?”
2. The inadvertent spreading of provocative rumors or misinformation before any attempts at fact-checking. It’s understandable if a parent receives an alarming text from their student about a potential safety issue, but when a vague question like “My son just said there’s a fire in a dorm! Anyone know what’s going on?” is posted, it can create a lot of undue fear. Every school has official safety and health emergency notifications that family members can subscribe to or follow on social media platforms.
3. Repeated venting from parents about situations that are a normal part of the college experience, such as students finding the food options lacking in their dining hall, bikes being stolen on campus, fees that all students must pay whether they utilize a certain resource or not, and the higher price for out-of-state tuition at most public institutions. When there are legitimate parental concerns over discrimination or personal safety, complaints certainly need to be addressed, but groups often become a depository for an abundance of grievances that seem to annoy parents more than they do students.
4. Parents wanting to know who they can contact about academic concerns like their student’s poor grade on an exam, a professor not allowing a late submission, or classwork being assigned over a break. While most parents correctly assume that it's their student’s responsibility to deal with issues like these, the number of college “snow-plow parents” is surprisingly high.
5. Parents’ attempts at social engineering their student’s life. It can be difficult for a parent to hear that their college student feels lonely or hasn’t found their tribe yet. The transition to college life, particularly for students who don’t head off to school with friends, can be rocky for a period of time. For many first-year or transfer students, it can feel like everyone is making instant friends except for them. All schools provide layers of resources for students to create new connections and for those who may need mental health support. Setting up “play dates” for college students is overstepping a healthy boundary.
As our children leave for college, pervasive social media resources can both help and hinder.
Your student's departure is the perfect time to step back and let them begin to figure things out on their own.
Utilize college family groups on Facebook to enhance your experience as a parental observer, not to interfere in your student’s ability to participate, engage and self-advocate. Here's an easy guideline to remember: If your student would approve of what you're planning to post, it’s probably fine to do so. If they'd be uncomfortable with your sharing or your question, find an alternative solution.
Or better yet, let them find it.