Congratulations, you did it!
You have successfully raised an intelligent and competent son or daughter, who is ready to begin this next exciting stage of development and growth at Santa Clara University. You should be very proud of yourself. Having your son or daughter attend college is an exciting event that you have planned and dreamed about for many years.
This new world can be an emotional rollercoaster as you experience the highs and lows of watching your son or daughter take this next big step into adulthood. It is normal to have feelings of both joy and anxiety during this transition. Struggling with your new parental role as your student moves towards independence and experiences new freedoms, responsibilities, and pressures is to be expected.
We hope this guide helps address these issues, answers some of your questions, and provides you with resources for further help or information. We encourage you to talk with your son or daughter about the issues discussed in this booklet and create an on-going adult dialogue from which you can each learn and grow.
College is an exciting time of personal growth and a search for maturity and self-identity. Although your student still needs plenty of love and support, it is also important for you to start becoming less involved so your son or daughter can begin to make and trust his/her own decisions. Be attentive to maintaining a balance between “letting go” and intervening on your student’s behalf. Your student will mature as a young adult by becoming increasingly accountable for his/her choices and decisions, while simultaneously still needing your guidance at times. It is important to appreciate that your student’s view of the world is changing. Many students seem different after they’ve been in college for a while. Being exposed to diverse new ideas and experiences will result in your student changing the way he/she views the world, sees oneself, and interacts with others—even family members. Don’t be surprised if even your student’s eating and sleeping habits change. The key is to be prepared for these changes. Try not to judge the differences, as your student may change again next month!
How can you “let go” of your son or daughter without cutting off your love and support? It’s not as hard as you might think. Many students like to communicate with their loved ones at home on their own terms, in their own time. Here are some ways that you can stay connected without infringing on your student’s new-found freedom:
- Provide your student with a pre-paid phone card or a cell phone to call home
- Communicate via e-mail
- Write letters
- Send small care packages
- Ask if you can visit your student during Parent’s Weekend
- Don’t show up unexpectedly
- Celebrate your student’s success
- Offer your support when he/she needs a shoulder to cry on
College is filled with new opportunities and challenges, especially for new freshmen. The freshman year is a time of significant change for students, as they now must assume greater responsibility for all aspects of their lives. Students sometimes have problems or feel stressed, especially during the early weeks and “crunch” times like midterms and finals. Here is a list of common freshman concerns:
- Homesickness/Social Adjustment: Some students have difficulty adjusting to living away from home and establishing a new life for themselves, including building a new social network, choosing classes, and setting their own schedules for eating, sleeping, studying, etc. Your student may struggle with feelings of incompetence, sadness, and anxiety. Provide a listening ear for any doubts and fears, but work to assure your student that you have faith and confidence in his/her abilities. The simple phrase, “I know you can do this”, can help solidify your student’s growing identity.
- Finances: Student borrowing for educational purposes has reached unprecedented national levels. Students often bridge the gap by working hours that approach a full-time job, which can affect their academic work. Another common student concern is credit card debt. If your student will work or has a job, talk with him/her about establishing a work schedule that won’t limit his/her ability to succeed in college. Also set a realistic budget and re-evaluate it so that your student does not work too many or not enough hours and compromise his/her ability to do well.
- Academic Major/Career: On average, students change their major twice before finally deciding upon an area of study. Indecision in this area is normal, especially during the freshman and sophomore years. Accept this as normal and try not to push your student into a certain field of study. Be supportive of his/her growing and changing interests.
- Academic Anxiety: Anxiety when taking tests and giving presentations in class can cause students to “draw a blank” or “freeze up,” even when they are well-prepared. Being a successful student is a demanding, stressful, hard-earned achievement.
- Self-Confidence: Even the most confident freshmen sometimes have doubts about their ability to meet the academic, personal, and social demands of college life. For some, the fear of failure causes them to avoid challenging tasks.
While many students have occasional bouts of stress or anxiety, it is important to recognize warning signs that your student may be developing a more serious problem:
- Difficulty adjusting to college life continuing beyond a couple of months
- Prolonged, recurrent, or severe sadness or anxiety
- Unexplained crying and/or repeated, tearful phone calls
- Significant, rapid change in weight
- Bursts of anger or unusual irritability
- Dramatic drop-off in academic performance
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Desire to avoid the company of others, even close friends
- Poor class attendance
- Use of alcohol or other drugs to cope with problems
If you are concerned about your student’s mental health, adjustment, or coping skills, please encourage your student to make an appointment with a professional counselor at the Counseling Center (408-554-4172).
If there is any talk or threat of suicide, contact 911, the Santa Clara Police Department (408-615-4700), or Campus Safety Services immediately (408-554-4444).
Help Your Student Thrive
Fortunately, parents can do a lot to help their students thrive. Among the suggestions most frequently mentioned by “veteran” parents are:
- Keep the lines of communication open. Be a good listener, encourage, and show interest in your student’s new life and experiences. Ask questions about classes, friends, and social events, but avoid pressing for information if your student seems reluctant to talk. Also, have an open mind and be careful with responding too harshly to your son or daughter’s choices and decisions, as this may lead to your student becoming defensive and no longer feeling comfortable offering important information (e.g., about grades, roommate problems, dating relationships, etc.). As a result, minor problems that could be easily solved with a little parental guidance may become much bigger issues.
- Don’t rush in and solve problems. Students need the experience of solving problems on their own, because they learn valuable lessons and confidence from the process. Some feel that the most important words a parent can utter to a freshman are, “What do you think you should do about this problem?”
- Convey your confidence in your student’s ability to be successful. Expressed parental support and encouragement are much more important than students will typically acknowledge. Freshmen need to know that their parents believe in their ability to handle the challenges of college.
- Don’t push your student into a major or career. Rushing the decision to select a major or pushing a student into a career in which he or she has no interest is an almost certain recipe for trouble.
- Learn about the campus resources available to your student. Help your student take advantage of the faculty and staff who have years of experience working with students in all areas of college life. If your student tells you that there is no one to help, encourage further investigation. (See the Campus Resources section on page 20 for more information).
One of the chief areas of responsibility new college students must master is money management. Their lack of money management skills often creates stress for parents and themselves. Parents can reduce some of the stress by doing the following:
- Jointly establish a monthly budget and expectations.
- Determine who will supply the spending money and how frequently it will be sent. Discuss what will happen if your student runs short of money.
- Resist the temptation to tie money to grades or to use withholding money as a threat.
- Establish a bank account in Santa Clara. Find one on or near campus that has a good relationship with the school and with students.
- If your student has a checking account for the first time, teach him/her how to set up and maintain a checkbook, including balancing it and recording debit/ATM transactions.
- Remind your student to keep the checkbook and the ATM card in a safe place.
- Record the bank’s ABA routing code and the student’s account number in case you need to wire money.
- If your student needs to work part time, limit the hours to no more than 10-15 hours per week for full-time students.
Students and Credit
Credit cards are now a fact of life for most adults. The same is becoming true for college students who often receive a credit card regardless of their credit history (or lack of one). Discourage your student from accepting any additional credit card offers, which can increase the likelihood that they will assume additional debt.
If your student does have a credit card:
- Make sure your student understands how to use the credit card in relation to his/her budget.
- Have the bill sent to the student and insist that it be paid in full each month.
- Emphasize that proper use of a credit card can help your student establish a good credit history.
- Remind your student that overcharges and late or missed payments can cause severe damage to your student’s credit rating.
- Allow your student to have only one major credit card for emergencies and carefully defined special occasions.