“What has your first semester done to you?” If you’re a parent of a first-year college freshman who came home for the Christmas break, you may well have asked this question. There are a few key things that, in my experience with college students, tend to trigger this kind of question. Here they are, along with a few of my thoughts on moving forward.
1) Mild concern. If this is the impetus for the question, then it may be that your young adult kid has had a tougher transition to the college scene than what is comfortable. Perhaps she didn’t perform up to her potential academically. Maybe he hasn’t found the right kind of friends and fellowship. Maybe she appears to be somewhat less physically, spiritually, or psychologically healthy than when she left home only five months ago. Perhaps he isn’t problem solving as independently as what you’d hoped for. Maybe she just doesn’t seem happy in her new environment. What to do: Monitor the situation. Don’t monitor in a big brother sort of way or in a way that removes responsibility from your young adult child. This is a key time of learning for him or her, particularly as it comes to working through hard things. Ask good questions rather than immediately giving solutions. This forces your student to think critically about their situation while simultaneously creating ownership for the solution that will actually work. Here is a great example of some questions you can use to coach your student. Good coaching, by the way, is often more about asking good questions than it is providing a solution for how YOU would handle the problem. Eventually, decisions must be made regarding how to solve the problem (or problems), but not before your student experiences the deep value of struggling with it some on her own.
2) Bad surprise. Did he wash out academically? Did you find out that she is dating a guy you’re really concerned about (as in, for her safety)? Even worse, maybe you discovered that she has an eating disorder, or that she’s been cutting, or is pregnant. Maybe you found out your son is doing drugs and has been binge drinking and sleeping around every weekend. Perhaps he or she has had suicidal thoughts. If any of these scenarios are even close to yours, you likely feel some sense of anger, guilt, or regret as a parent. You may even be tempted to deny the problem. Perhaps you knew that sending your son or daughter to college away from home was a risk to begin with, and now you wish you’d done things differently with him or her in some way. What to do: For now, put the “coulda, woulda, shoulda” type thinking to the side. Right now you must keep a clear head. If your adult child doesn’t see the problem, or is denying or minimizing it, you must act. You must assess the level of risk to his or her health and safety. If you believe he could be a danger to himself or others, I strongly urge you to consult with a trusted medical professional or a licensed mental health professional that can offer insight on steps to take. If he is not a danger to himself or others, then seeking help from a trained counselor, pastor or life coach who understands these challenges in the college student population can be a good way to go.
3) Good surprise. Maybe the son who seemed pretty withdrawn when you dropped him off on the campus has come back as quite the social bug, plugging in to some great activities, clubs, ministries and getting into a healthy peer group. Or perhaps the daughter who was texting you from campus to help her problem-solve in real time (seemingly every hour for the first month) has now found a trustworthy group of friends or mentor who is helping her become more independent as a young adult. Maybe the son you saw pull mostly B’s in high school just got a near perfect set of grades in his first semester of college. What to do: First, celebrate. Make sure your adult kid knows how proud of her you are. Second, get out of the way as much as possible and let her take off. As Impact 360 Institute board member Trudy Cathy White puts it to the parents of each new class of students during the Impact 360 Gap Year parent orientation on move-in day, “You’ve nurtured your children, you’ve given them roots; now you have to give them wings and let them soar.” Of course this does NOT mean stop being a good parent. It does mean, however, that being a good parent for your grown adult child must look very different if they are to continue to grow, and ultimately to soar in ways you’ve always prayed for.
So, how will you choose to help your student succeed in college and on the path to discovering his or her God-given calling in 2015?
Interested in what you can do to help guide your student through their college transition? Check out John Basie’s book, Your College Launch Story: Six Things Every Parent Must Do!