St. Mary's College of Maryland

What You Should Know About: Parenting a College Student

Our College offices are staffed with professionals who have spent years working with students, and we went to them for perspectives that parents might find helpful. In this section, we have printed some of their accumulated wisdom, and we have also consulted the books which they recommended, making liberal use of their material. We are providing the authors and titles of works that we think make especially interesting reading.

During the college years students essentially recreate themselves, using the values that you have imbedded as the cornerstone. The developmental tasks of young adulthood are as significant as those of a developing toddler. The intellectual stimulation of college introduces new horizons of thought which students must examine and integrate into their views of the world. Responsibilities and problems will arise which students will have to learn to negotiate on their own.

In the next four years, you will once again see your child struggling to walk on his or her own, perhaps falling and scraping knees, going in new directions, and also experiencing the euphoria of discovery. You will once again be asked to "let go." As with a toddler, you will be asked to guide and instruct, to maintain loving contact, and also to allow your student to learn to walk alone, bruises and all, in order to discover new horizons.

The transition from adolescence to young adulthood and maturity is called "individuation," becoming a person in one's own right, and not merely an extension and junior edition of one's parents. This is a time of uncertainty, questioning, experimentation, and vulnerability. College students find themselves in a largely unrecognized turmoil, confronted with new rules of interaction, new lifestyles, and a lack of familiar structure. This leads to a great deal of self-evaluation, comparing previous structures (from home and high school) with new ideas.

Having your child begin his or her college career can be a stressful experience for you as parents, especially if your son or daughter hasn't lived away from home before. During this important time of transition for the family, many parents put their own feelings and reactions on hold while helping their child prepare for college life. Attending to your own emotional needs, however, as well as your child's, will go a long way toward helping everyone feel comfortable with the challenges that going to college represents.

We hope that these ideas and suggestions will be helpful to you in dealing with some of the challenges parents experience when their child goes to college. The first year of SMCM is a tremendously exciting time, and we hope and trust that you and your child will have a rewarding year.