WHEELING - Although it may be hard to let go, treating your children like the young adults they are is essential for them to get the most out of their college experience, according to higher education leaders.
That means taking a sometimes painful step back and trusting that the values you've instilled in your child through the first 18 years of their life will lead them to make good decisions, according to Justin Tyler Owens, director of residence life at Wheeling Jesuit University.
"Autonomy is vital for first-year students," he said.
Photo by Ian Hicks
Wheeling Jesuit University Director of Residence Life Justin Tyler Owens and Dean of Student Development Christine Ohl-Gigliotti discuss housing assignments for the upcoming school year.
The tendency for first-year students to go home on weekends is a big obstacle to making college feel like home, according to Owens. Instead, parents should encourage their children to embrace new experiences.
For example, Labor Day weekend is a time when freshman dorm buildings at many college campuses are eerily quiet, deserted by nearly all residents who live within a reasonable driving distance of home. It may be a longer break that affords the opportunity to visit with friends from high school - and have Mom do the laundry - but those early weekends are crucial for first-year students to develop the new relationships and skills they'll need to thrive, according to Owens.
"I would advise parents, at least for the first four to six weeks, to not be inviting your son or daughter home," he said. "Let them be here."
And when a student faces adversity, whether it's a leaky toilet, a conflict with a roommate or a less-than-desirable grade on an exam, it's important for him or her to learn how to rectify those issues without parental intervention. Those who feel compelled to step in at the first hint of trouble - college administrators have become fond of using the term "helicopter parents" - aren't doing their children any favors in the long run, according to Owens.
"It's about giving them the opportunity to grow and stand on their own two feet," he said.
There will almost inevitably be bumps in the road, however, and Owens advises parents to encourage honest communication about the ups and downs of the college experience. He's often found that when students are less than honest about issues such as poor grades or being caught drinking alcohol because they fear the reaction. Letting them know they have supportive ears in their parents can make a big difference.
"Allowing them to make mistakes and still loving them unconditionally is important. ... How parents react to their slips and failures, being able to assist them through that process is vital," Owens said.