It’s October, which means your college freshman has been on their own at school for nearly a month. For most parents, it’s a bittersweet time. We’re excited to see our kids flourish in school and hear about their classes and the clubs they’ve joined. But we’re anxious, too. Are they eating well? Are they oversleeping? Are they not sleeping enough? Do they know how to operate a washer/dryer? (Let’s hope so!)
We still play a big part in our kids’ development and success, even when they’re away from home. So, as a college instructor and proud MilParent of two college MilKids (a junior at Boston University and a freshman at MIT — 2,019 miles from home, but who’s counting?) — in Air Force ROTC, I’d like to offer some advice for parents of college kids:
- Talk to other families who have kids in college. The best advice usually comes from fellow parents, especially those whose kids are in similar circumstances to yours (e.g., student at a small college, daughter who wants to rush a sorority, introverted son feeling lonely, etcetera).
And, as MilFams who have been stationed around the world, we’re fortunate to have many friends. Use those friends in similar circumstances as resources. Also, look for resources at your base, or start one of your own, like a local Facebook page or a monthly coffee through the base spouses’ club.
There are a couple of MilParent pages on Facebook offering help on college parenting: Grown & Flown Military Style, where MilParents post questions and help each other out, and Anchor Collegiate: Navigating the College Admissions Process, run by Army MilSpouse Kerri Beckert. Kerri is a college admissions consultant, but she posts relevant information for college parents and gladly answers questions.
- Tell your MilKid that Amazon Prime offers six months free for college students. This is good for textbooks, dorm items, watching movies, etcetera.
- Let your kid come to you with their grades — don’t pester them. College kids have a lot going on, including internal pressure. Ask them about other things, like their health, their activities, and, of course, any new delicacies the cafeteria is serving (phrasing it like that will get laugh out of your MilKid).
- Set up a communication schedule that favors your kid’s schedule. My spouse and I try to Facetime or call on Sundays, but we know it might not happen given our kids’ academic, social, club, and ROTC schedules. Beyond our standing Sunday phone call, we touch base as needed. We text anytime (probably too often for our kids’ liking) about trivial stuff that doesn't require a response. We know our kids are busy, so we don’t expect quick replies.
- Instead of having a joint account or sending money, have your child set up their own checking account. This will help them learn about budgeting and give them responsibilities.
Being military, we have access to financial organizations such as USAA and various base credit unions. Look for free ATM use, a good phone app for transferring and depositing funds, and a user-friendly setup to easily transfer funds from your account to theirs (USAA makes this really easy. We have a family account and our college kids have their own checking, savings, and IRA accounts; transferring between these is very user-friendly.)
- Send care packages. Stuff as much as you can into a USPS flat rate box. The kids — and their new friends — will love it, especially if you include homemade cookies.
- Remind your kids to back up their computer files and purchase virus/malware protection.
- Look into renter’s insurance for their laptops, phones, bikes, etcetera. There are some inexpensive but broad coverage plans out there, such as this one from Arthur J. Gallagher.
- Be careful of “helicoptering!” The military life has prepared your kids to be resilient, adaptable, problem solvers, and good at making new friends, so there is no need to take on a helicopter parent role. Your kids will be fine – they’ll be able to make friends, learn how to manage their study time, and figure out where to get a haircut.
Don’t be a “lawnmower parent,” either. Whereas helicopter parents immediately land at the slightest hint of trouble, lawnmower parents jump right in and clear the way for their college kid, whether it be class schedules, ordering groceries online, decorating their dorm rooms, or talking directly to teachers about missing classes due to flying home. This “help” will not teach college kids to do things themselves or learn to make decisions.
On one college’s Facebook page for parents, I’ve seen parents asking for the link to the school’s job center and where kids could get their dry cleaning done. College kids can find this information themselves, and will be the better for it, given their more adept use of Google and Google Maps.
Having written the above though, parents can still be involved. As this article explains, there is a balance between doing too much for your college kids and not doing anything. In fact, studies show kids do better when there is this balance. Suggesting things like getting virus/malware protection and their own checking account are acceptable ways to help.
- We all made mistakes when we were in college, so bear with them when they tell you of theirs (if you’re lucky enough to hear it from them).
As I said, I strongly recommend readers get in touch with other parents to discuss these issues further. In fact, if you have advice, please offer it in the comments section below — we’d love to share it.
Finally, as someone told me at the start of this adventure three years ago: Remember that parenting a college student is a rollercoaster. Just make sure you keep your hands and feet in the car and hang on!