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Why It’s Important to Support Your Student’s Activism (Even if You Don’t Agree with It)


The 2020 vote is just over the horizon. Student debt, climate change, gun violence, and reproductive rights are all on the ballot in 2020.

And while you may be talking about these topics in your community or with your friends and family, these are the types of issues that are especially important on college campuses.

Colleges and universities are innately political places. Discussing historical events, looking at current social issues, and forming thoughtful arguments are all parts of higher education.

The college setting creates a space for students to make their individual voices heard. And it’s often the first time that our students begin to shape their own unique beliefs about social, economic, and humanitarian issues.

This is an important experience for our students as they continue to grow into adulthood. Research shows environments that foster free speech and expression broaden college students’ political views on both sides of the aisle, making them more open-minded when listening to other’s opinions.

As parents, it can be surprising to find out that our college freshmen have developed a passionate, socially conscious side that they didn’t have as high schoolers. And although we all want our students to learn and grow, watching our children adopt their own opinions on certain issues can sometimes be difficult for us as parents.

This can be especially true if we find ourselves on the opposite sides of an issue.

The question for us as parents is, how do we respond to our student’s political activism?

How to Respond to Your College Student’s Activism

We want to have close relationships with our student, and we want to be able to talk about serious issues. Just as importantly, we want to encourage them to find their own voice, and to have the self-confidence to stand up for what they believe in.


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But when we disagree with our students on topics that are important to us, offering this type of support can feel almost impossible.

Hard conversations are worth having with your student. If you approach your student with the right mindset, you can both come away feeling respected and heard, and having learned a bit more about each other, too.

Even if you agree with your student on a certain topic, you may not agree with their approach when advocating around it. Some of us are content to make our voices heard in the ballot box, but that isn’t always enough for our kids, who may want to protest, boycott, and get engaged on social media.

You might worry that this kind of activism could distract them from their studies, or open them to judgement by their peers and school faculty. And in some cases, you could even have the concern that your student could end up hurt for what they believe in.

The best way to approach this touchy subject is to consider the benefits your student can reap from getting politically involved in college, regardless of where they stand on various issues.

Supporting your student’s activism can help you forge a stronger relationship, and help your student improve their leadership and critical thinking skills. Here are 5 ways how:

1. Activism is an opportunity to develop critical thinking skills.

When you don’t listen to your student’s side of things, you rob them of the experience of coming to their own conclusions. Rather than fight with your student, allow them to explore their own ideas while in conversation with you.

This exploration enables them to utilize and develop critical thinking skills. Your child will need to learn how to find their own path through life, and judging them or arguing will only push them away.

And after all, you could be wrong about a thing or two…the horror!

2. Their activism is an opportunity for you to learn about yourself.

The way we raise our students helps shape who they become as adults. Studies have found that the development of political attitudes is dependent on our relationship with our student in very nuanced ways.

Believe it or not, that means our student’s political views — even if they’re the opposite of ours — come from the way we raised them.

Supporting your student’s activism, even if you don’t agree with it, can be a way for you to learn something about yourself.

What parenting values of yours may have led your child to develop the opinions they have? Maybe when you were young, you also rebelled against your parents’ ways of thinking. What may have changed for you since then?

If you’re on opposite ends of your student’s political views, spend time thinking about why your student’s perspective bothers you. This could be a good time for you to look inward, and maybe even learn something about yourself.

3. Activism is an opportunity for you to become closer to your student.

Your college student is now a young adult. It may be time to start sharing real feelings and personal experiences with them, which can help build a more adult, respectful relationship.

Maybe you have things in your past that seemed too scary to tell your kid about: fears about money, an abusive parent or partner, a violent experience, or simply the feeling of never being heard.

These are all vulnerable experiences that may have shaped your political beliefs and who you are today. Even if it’s hard to talk about these moments, this is a way for your student to better understand not just who you are as a parent, but as a person.

The result could be a closer relationship than ever before.

4. Activism is a chance to practice empathy

Regardless of where your student stands on political issues and activism, it’s important to understand that these issues are deeply personal to them.

The challenges and opportunities that exist for our college students are different than the ones we experienced at their age. Their reality, not ours, shapes the way they view the world.

Talking with your student to understand their passion for the political issues of their time is a great chance for you to practice empathy. Stay open-minded with the understanding that your student’s beliefs are an intrinsic part of who they are, and their feelings and experiences matter.

5. Activism is an opportunity for you to learn how to let go.

Your student is becoming an adult and flying away from the nest. You can’t be there for every moment of the journey.

Your relationship with your college student isn’t the same as when they were children. They’re now the captains of their own beliefs and ideas about the world.

But the truth is, your student still needs you — just not in the same way. Now, what they need more than anything is your acceptance, your, love, your trust and your respect.

This is what will enable them to transform into the caring and open-minded adult that you’ve always hoped they could become.

Get More Tips for Communicating with Your College Student

Parenting college age students isn’t easy — and it’s not just politics that can be hard to navigate.

Relationships, financial struggles, career choices, and much more can make for rocky ground. But these talks don’t have to end in a fight.

Read our advice on how to start a real conversation with your college student >

CollegiateParent supports you on your own personal journey during your student's college years. We answer questions, share stories and connect you to life on campus. Reach out to us at any time!
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