Tips for Parenting a Freshman

Reminders for Parents:

In the space of one week, a new freshman will likely:

Freshmen quickly discover that:

Freshmen face a myriad of social challenges which they must solve by:


Rules for Parents

Rule 1—Write (even if they don’t write back)

Freshmen are typically eager to experience all the away-from-home independence they can in those first few weeks but most are still anxious for family ties and the security those ties bring. Even though 99 percent of the freshmen won’t ever admit it, they love news from home, however mundane it may seem to you. There’s nothing more depressing than a week of empty mailboxes, but don’t expect a reply to every letter you may write. Negotiate with your student the frequency of e-mail exchanges.

Rule 2—Ask questions (but not too many)

College freshmen are “cool” (or so they think) and have a tendency to resent interference with their new-found lifestyle, but most still desire the security of knowing that someone is still interested in them. Feel free to give advice on particular majors but don’t insist on your student declaring a major during the freshman or even the sophomore year. The education system is designed to allow students to explore all sorts of alternatives to a life-long plan and career goal. Try for the supportive, relief-giving style rather than the alienating, nag effect.

Rule 3—Expect change (but not too much)

Your student will change (either drastically within the first months, slowly over four years, or somewhere in between that pace). It’s natural, inevitable, and it can be inspiring and beautiful. Often it’s a pain in the neck. A premed student may discover that biology’s not his/her thing after all. Also, it’s important to note that the average student changes his/her major at least three times during the four years of college. The main thing is to be patient.

Rule 4—Don’t worry (too much) about frantic phone calls or letters

Often when troubles become too much for a freshman to handle (bad grade, deteriorated relationship, and shrunken t-shirt all in one day), the place to run is home. In such a “crisis,” your student unloads the trouble or tears and returns to the routine relieved and lightened, while you inherit the burden of worry.

Rule 5—Do not tell them that these are the best years of their lives

Any parent who believes that all college students get good grades; know what they want to major in; always have activity-packed weekends and thousands of close friends; and lead care-free, worry-free lives is wrong. So are the parents who think that college-educated means mistake proof. Parents who perpetuate and insist upon that “best years” stereotype are working against their student’s already difficult self-development. Those who accept and understand the highs and lows of their student’s reality are providing the support and encouragement where it’s needed most.