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Tips for Keeping in Touch with Your College Freshman

For families with new college students, autumn is often a whirlwind of emotions. Students are eager for the adventures that college brings, and parents are excited for their children take this important leap on the journey to adulthood. Yet both sides feel the loss of the day-to-day contact that has been the foundation of family life. In an age when technology makes constant contact easier than ever, what are healthy boundaries for keeping in touch? 

Barbara Hofer, a psychology professor at Middlebury College in Vermont, has been studying this question since 2006 and is co-author of The iConnected Parent: Staying Close to Your Kids in College (and Beyond) While Letting Them Grow Up. Hofer’s research found that college students who initiated contact more often than their parents did were happier, had less conflict with parents, and had better grades. Thus, a key strategy for success, Hofer says, is to follow students’ leads because it is “healthier for them to feel that they are in control.” This does not mean that parents must be left languishing. On average, today’s current college students are in touch with parents far more often than in the era when long distance calls were metered by the minute. 

Consider these strategies to keep communication channels open:

  • Have an open conversation to establish clear expectations. Ideally this would take place before the school year starts, but it is never too late to cover this topic. Start by asking students to articulate what they want.
     
  • Plan strategies for keeping in touch with both parents. As phones have become attached to individuals rather than households, students generally report less communication with dads. Speaker phone and video functions offer easy avenues for family chatting.
  • Follow a student’s primary social media account to glimpse daily life. Show restraint in commenting so that young adults have space to express themselves with peers. 
  • Notice if a visit home is less about family fun and more about avoiding something on campus. If it is the latter, encourage your college student to address the issue so that they become fully immersed in their new community.

The idea that 18-year-olds will go off to college and be fully independent is disingenuous. The approach of helicopter parenting is equally unhelpful. Parents will be interwoven in children’s lives regardless of age, so it is valuable to recognize their critical role during this era. From the beginning of the college search process, I emphasize to candidates and their parents that this is the student’s journey. The role of parents—and for myself as an educational advisor and mentor—is to support young adults in taking increasing ownership of their life decisions. Creating new communication patterns is one more piece in this puzzle. College is, after all, most students’ first opportunity to truly establish themselves away from the nest. Confidence builds on itself, and the more students find success through their own choices, the more they will thrive during college and after graduation.


Deena Maerowitz advises students throughout the entire college admissions process. She works with students ranging from freshmen to seniors and is an expert in both undergraduate and graduate education. She is widely published and sought-after as a speaker on college planning. She can be reached at deena@thebertramgroup.com