For those of you who have children heading to their freshman year in college, this is an exciting time. Your son or daughter is probably nervous, enthusiastic, optimistic, and filled with anticipation as they begin the school year, and no doubt so are you. Here are a few tips to help you with the transition:
Ask Your Child to Grant You Access to Grades and Health Care Information. As parents of college students you do not have automatic access to this information; the student must grant you that access. Explain and pledge to your child that you will not use this access unless extreme circumstances dictate that you should. Two such circumstances come to mind: if your child is overwhelmed by work and is too bewildered/embarrassed to seek help within the university, you will be able to get a sense of how serious this issue is at the end of one semester, and guide/encourage them to find the help they need before they get in any further serious academic trouble. Should your child develop any medical issues that incapacitate him and/or render him unable to make sound medical decisions, you need to be able to have access to this information to be able to help provide the necessary care. Not trying to scare you, but these are some of the worst-case scenarios that lead to this recommendation. Hopefully you won’t need or have to act on this access, but you should have it.
The goal is for you to be able to access to this information, and to discuss it with your child and/or act upon it only if absolutely necessary. To be clear, your child is now a young adult who needs to find their own way and make their own mistakes in college. A bad grade in a class or a trip to the infirmary is not for you to uncover and chastise them about. By giving you this access they are trusting you not to use it to regularly spy on them. You should pledge not to do so, and stick with that pledge, no matter how tempted you might be to check this information regularly and quiz/lecture them about it. Abusing this access can add to whatever anxiety your child may be experiencing and will certainly damage their ability to trust you at your word.
If they refuse to grant you access (and some certainly will) here is a compromise position: if there are any serious academic or medical issues during any semester in which you don’t have access (which are serious enough for you to find out about them afterwards), going forward they must grant you access to ensure your support.
If you haven’t had a conversation with them about this before they leave for school, it is not too late–they can easily grant you access via their student online account. It is a good idea to have a conversation about this with them as early in the semester as possible, however, as it is easier to get them to agree to this in the abstract versus after they have started classes.
Familiarize Yourself with University Support and Security Systems: Most colleges have some form of parent orientation during the move-in process, which usually includes discussions of university academic and mental health support systems, and campus security. Even if you heard it all there, go online or call the school, find out the steps necessary to seek this support, and file them somewhere handy. Optimally your child will figure out where to go for this support without your help. In fact, part of the growth process is for them figure it out, and you should strongly encourage them to do so. But you should have the info handy so you can guide them if necessary. For example, it was good to know where to direct one of my children who was stumped in a subject and in a panic just as finals were approaching. Earlier in the semester I would have insisted they figure it out for themselves but during this time crunch it was good to have this academic support info handy. More significantly, when one of my children was very worried about how to help a college classmate who was contemplating suicide it was helpful to be able to quickly provide some numbers to call.
Try Not to Bug Them With or About Texts: This one is tough, because you may be used to hearing from your child regularly via text. Remember that if you don’t get an immediate answer they could be in class, or just preoccupied with some college stuff. And the goal is for them to explore and absorb the college experience on their own terms, not to have to report back to you about it on a moment-by-moment basis.
Good luck to all your freshmen! Try not to worry about them so much; they are beginning a great and grand adventure.