Now that your child is preparing for or already in college, you are facing new challenges as a parent. Just as your student will be learning new information and making mistakes along the way, so will you. As you start on this new journey with your son or daughter, get familiar with these five college mistakes that parents make so you will be one step ahead of the game.
Forcing your opinions upon your child. As a parent of a college student (or soon-to-be college student), you no longer have the same control over your child that you once had. Forcing your own opinions upon your child about which college to attend, which organizations to join, when to study, when to come home for visits, what to eat, how often to exercise, etc. will only cause friction between you and your son or daughter. While you cannot force your student to behave exactly how you want, you can still have influence on your child's behavior by sharing your values and beliefs and respecting the decisions that your child makes. If you create an atmosphere of open communication and respect, then your child will be more likely to turn to you for guidance and possibly follow your advice.
Avoiding financial discussions. Don't keep your student out of the loop when it comes to financial issues about college. Even if you plan to completely finance his or her college education and financially support him or her throughout college, you should still involve your child in financial discussions as it will provide a good learning opportunity. Make sure your child is involved in each step of the financial aid process, such as researching scholarships, filling out the FAFSA, understanding the award notification, etc. You should also discuss a college budget with your student and make sure he or she knows how to balance a checkbook and avoid credit card woes. Encourage your son or daughter to get a part-time job (as long as it doesn't interfere with school) in order to become more fiscally responsible.
Withholding your own college experience. If you went to college, share some of your experiences with your child. Talk about the classes you took, the activities in which you were involved, the stress you experienced around final exams, the parties you attended, etc. Sharing this kind of information with your student will establish a stronger bond and help him or her realize that you understand what he/she is going through. If your child is a first-generation college student, you can still share experiences from your teenage and young adult years. We all go through some of the same life experiences whether college is involved or not.
Fostering a dependent environment. Amongst college faculty, this mistake is known as being a "helicopter parent." A helicopter parent hovers closely over his/her child in order to intervene during problematic times and stressful situations (e.g. grade disputes or roommate disagreements) or to help with everyday tasks (e.g. making doctor appointments or doing laundry). If you tend to be a helicopter parent, know that this kind of intervening can be detrimental to your child because he or she will never grow up and be self-reliant if always depending on you. It's crucial for you to remain supportive but still foster an environment where your child will learn how to become an independent adult.
Forgetting how important home is to your child. Because your student is going through all these new life experiences and making new friends, you may feel that home is not as important to him/her. On the contrary, home becomes even more important. While your student is going through these new experiences, changes, and challenges, home becomes a foundation upon with he/she can count. Your son or daughter needs you to be there and needs everything to feel familiar during visits home. Don't redecorate his or her room (just yet) or stop cooking favorite recipes. With his/her ever-changing life, your child wants to come home to the familiar.
College life is a whole new experience for you and your child. Along the way, you'll both make mistakes, and that's okay. Just remember to learn from them.