Stress Less!: Pointers for Parents
- Stay connected: Don't suddenly cut back on communication with your son or daughter after he/she has gone off to college. Being a "helicopter parent," one who hovers, has been given lots of bad press…but being a steady available non-intrusive presence from a distance can be a very good thing, even if the student shows signs of wanting less contact. An occasional call is reassuring.
- Convey confidence, availability, and caring: Communicate your faith that, with support, the young person will learn from experiences and ultimately find his/her way to a fulfilling, meaningful life. Refrain from grilling him/her about schoolwork, friendships, and relationships, and resist the urge to offer unsolicited advice; always ask first if it would be okay.
- Listen carefully and try to validate feelings, even when you don't agree. Hearing someone we love say that he/she is miserable or that no one likes him/her makes us either want to go into rescue mode or to convince him/her that his/her perceptions are off base. Surprisingly, just listening and indicating that you hear how a person is feeling right now usually enables him/her to move to a more reflective, less dramatic assessment of the situation. Remember that your child is still an adolescent and emotions are experienced powerfully-the tearful phone call about a breakup or the excited email about the solo ice climbing trip that sounds too dangerous may be followed by contact in the coming days that reflects good spirits and reconsideration of overly ambitious and risky plans. Saying, "You sound so unhappy now, I can hear that…" or, "Wow, you sound so excited about ice climbing!" does not preclude a follow-up exploring the reasons for the mood or the advisability of the trip.
- Trust your own judgment and knowledge of your child: If you sense that your son or daughter's unhappiness is enduring, his/her decisions really unsound, and/or the academic distress much more than one might expect given the new situation, follow through with suggestions for getting additional help. Encourage your child to speak to a resident advisor, a mental health counselor at the college, and/or a member of the clergy…and follow up to hear the outcome. If you remain concerned about your child's emotional or physical safety, because schools are often legally barred from communicating with parents about students, it makes sense to visit and assess the situation first hand.
- Short visits can be helpful: Most students will not be home until Thanksgiving or Fall break, and some may even go home with a new friend. If your child wants to come home at an unscheduled time, encourage the brief reconnection. It can be reassuring for everyone.
- Respect boundaries. Don't join Facebook to peek into your child's life; it's like peering into the window in the door of the preschool classroom. Instead, continue to keep the lines of communication open so you can hear what's happening directly from your loved one. You can also join the Parents Club or become a supporter of the local Hillel or any other organization that allows your involvement from an appropriate distance.
- Don't redecorate your student's bedroom: Some parents plunge headfirst into this new stage of life, making a den out of a son or daughter's "old bedroom." Beginning college is an important step toward a young person's independent life, but he/she still wants to have a place at home. Anything that reads as too much enthusiasm about his/her leaving might engender hurt feelings and insecurity. After all, young people want to leave us, not to have us leave them.
- Be open to plan B: Most students will eventually adapt well to the school they have chosen and to life away from home. Yet some do find that, for any number of reasons, this is either not the right school or the right time for them to be there. If this is true of your son or daughter, support him/her in that choice, and give your child positive feedback for having the flexibility and courage to search for a plan that is better for his/her individual needs-whether that's taking a year off and working at home or elsewhere, transferring, or any other alternative that helps him/her to be clearer about the future. It's not a personal rejection; it's a sign you did your job well.
- Rabbi Edythe Held Mencher, URJ’s Caring Community Specialist for Jewish Family Concerns