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Communicating with your college student

Diane Schwemm

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One of the hardest things about sending our children off to college is the loss of daily contact.

We knew this day was coming — it’s what we raised them for. But the fact is they’re off, leading lives we don’t see, hanging out with people we don’t know.

If you and your student text or talk every day, you may not need to read any further! For the rest of us, it’s normal occasionally to be anxious or sad or frustrated by the silence that can stretch between us.

“The hardest part of Dylan’s first year was not knowing what he was up to,” Eileen remembered. “What did he have for dinner? What are his friends like?” If she made a mistake initially, it was trying to check in with him all the time — “but I got over that!” She started to relax when she realized he was figuring things out on his own. The radio silence was a mark of his growing independence.

How do you determine the right amount of contact? Beth in California said, “I don’t want to hover, but I want them to know that I care and want to know how they’re doing. With two very independent sons, I initiate most of the contact and, although they always respond, I wish they’d call or text first more often.”

Communication tips from experienced college parents:

  1. “Set a time frame for calling them before school starts in the fall,” Amy recommended. “It may not be as often as you like but this way it’s more likely to happen.”
  2. “Don’t think you need to check in every day or even every week,” Cathy said, “even though technology allows this and in the first year the students might feel bad if they don’t tell you all the time that they are okay.”
  3. Remember that no news is usually good news. My sister Laura often felt unsettled, having friends whose children called or texted daily while hers only checked in every week or two. “I knew I was taking a healthy approach to parenting a college student, but I had moments of self-doubt.” When her son needed emotional support or had urgent questions, though, he called right away.
  4. Do establish an expectation about how long they can wait before replying when something is time-sensitive or important.

A single “yeah” or “yup” as a text reply to a longer communication is not a bad sign! – Pamela in Hawaii

What about when the call finally comes and the person on the other end of the phone is in tears? “The transition to college life can be challenging, bumpy and overwhelming,” Sarah observed. “Because of the ease of electronic communications, you may get some frantic or upset phone calls.”

Her advice: “Don’t panic, don’t over-advise, don’t overreact. The best thing to do is to listen and, if you ask questions, make them open-ended. ‘How are you going to handle that? What do you think you will do?’ Sometimes they just need to vent!”

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Diane Schwemm is the former Senior Editor and Content Manager at CollegiateParent and the mom of three young adult children in their twenties. She lives in Boulder, Colorado, and loves books, gardening, hiking, and most of all spending time with her new grandson.
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