Starting college is a big deal for students. It’s also a big deal for parents.
When students move into a campus residence hall or apartment, it may be the first time that they have lived away from home. It’s natural that young adults will become more independent and develop autonomy from their parents or guardians.
So, how can parents best navigate these changes?
Virginia Tech expert Jenene Case Pease says that parents should be honest with themselves and their young adults about the joy, sadness, and other emotions that happen with the college transition. The family should understand that everyone in the household is facing change and that these changes will affect relationships.
Case Pease offers this advice for any parent or guardian of a college student:

  • Be prepared to adjust your expectations regarding communication and time spent together. Learn to recognize how and when your student is most open to communicate.
  • Respect the boundaries set by the student. Their priorities will naturally shift as their responsibilities  increase.
  • Show genuine enthusiasm in the student’s new perspectives and interests.
  • Withhold judgement about the student's proposed area of study and show curiousity about their selected field.
  • Provide space for young adults to ponder what is working or not working without imposing solutions for them.
  • Avoid approaching the student  with an “I know you better than you know yourself" attitude.

“This transition is a wonderful time for parents to model the type of respectful communication that they would like their child to reciprocate,” Case Pease said. “Trust that they (as parents) have provided their launching young adult with adequate skills to manage the demands of college life.” 

About Case Pease

Case Pease is a clinical associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science at Virginia Tech. She also is clinical director at the Family Therapy Center of Virginia Tech. Her expertise is in marriage and family therapy and relationship education.

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