During the past few years, I've been doing more counseling than ever with college-age students and/or their parents. I've observed, both from my working with patients, and from my husband and I launching our three into college, grad school and adult life, that this launching phase has gotten harder than it was when parents did it years ago. The job market is increasingly competitive, and the cost of living is so high. For many college grads, there is some disappointment, sadness and loss after graduating and seeing how excruciatingly slow the job search process is.
What can parents do to help their college-age sons and daughters launch successfully? How do we help them grow stronger and prepare real life skills which will help them in the post-college transition?
Here are some tips for mom and dad:
1. Help, but not too much. Have them do as much for themselves as you think they can do, more each year during college. Have them get their car serviced and maintained, make all their own appointments with professionals. Down shift your parenting.
2. Help them create a budget and clearly define what you are and are not paying for. It's a good idea to begin having them pay one small bill monthly as a way to get started on financial responsibility. Take them with you to a simple financial/budgeting workshop, which discusses not getting into debt. Dave Ramsey has some one-day workshops across the country that are inexpensive and will do the job.
3. Strongly encourage internships, beginning by junior year in college. Ideally, it will make your grad stand out to potential employers to have had several internships for their resume after graduation. At many colleges, no one will bring up this option to your student, so encourage your student to be their own advocate and go visit their academic department office and professors to ask about internship possibilities by spring of sophomore year. Internships help familiarize your son/daughter with the world of work.
4. After the initial first freshman semester adjustment, have your student work part-time a few hours a week. On-campus jobs often pay well and will work with their class schedule.
5. Whenever possible, let them fight their own battles without parents getting involved.
6. When they move back home during or after college, set clear expectations about what you need them to handle at home and how they can fit in the quieter household with mom and dad.
7. Consider having college grads who are living at home and working pay rent monthly so that can get accustomed to it. You can always surprise them with a gift of some or all of the money back when they move out.
8. Remind your student that if they are struggling with a lack of direction they can get career testing done on campus or privately. Most students benefit from getting a battery of career and skills testing done so that they can choose a major that makes sense and will lead to a job they will like.
9. Make your student aware that if they are struggling with adjusting to college, managing their time or studying, balancing building a new college social identity and finding friends, dealing with a romantic break up, anxiety, depression, or loneliness that even a few sessions of supportive counseling can really help. They can visit the college counseling center for a few sessions, or get some private counseling.
10. Let your adult son or daughter take the lead in contacting you. Don't helicopter parent.
11. When they are home, don't do their laundry, clean their room/bathroom, or prepare all their meals. Have groceries, offer some dinners when you are cooking, but don't enable regression into childhood.
12. Praise and encourage self-sufficiency and resourcefulness. If they come to you with problems, do reflective listening, and follow up by asking them what they think they should do to improve a situation they are concerned about.
Parents of college-age students must step in if you believe your student is failing classes, depressed, or anxious to make sure those important issues are addressed. Otherwise, prepare to shift your thinking about the parenting of your adult child when they are in college and preparing for launch. Be a part of the launch, not over-functioning in a way that interferes with their success. You may really enjoy the new adult to adult relationship that emerges. We're really liking it in my family.
A few thoughts on the college transition from my daughter Ally, age 20 and a college junior...
Being an adult to me is handling situations with more maturity and being able to balance your own activities independently. There is a common saying, "Grades, sleep and social life. Pick two." And that doesn't include outside obligations like work or internships! It's important to find the harmony in your schedule and to not get overwhelmed. Students need to work out the right amount of time for friends, family and themselves. As a parent, you can start helping your student schedule their time in high school so they are adjusted by the time they get to college.
As a college student, it is tough to balance being an adult and not yet being financially independent. You are old enough to take care of yourself but not yet equipped with the tools you need to do it. Being financially responsible is a big part of separating from your parents. Working a part-time job is great experience in working hard and staying humble. Minimum wage paying jobs in restaurants and retail helped me respect money and think carefully about where I spend it. Parents can be clear with students about what they are paying for so students know how to spend their money and decide if they need to work. Students often feel guilty taking money from their parents for tuition, rent and outside activities as they don't feel they are contributing enough. Making sure you save and spend responsibility can alleviate some stress and know that you have a lifetime left to repay your parents in other ways.