Parents of college students and future college students: I have terrific news for you!

Your students are in good hands. Please, let me explain…

I recently had the opportunity to attend a conference for an association of higher ed parent and family program professionals. Who are they, you ask? What do they do?

These are the staff on your students’ campuses who are dedicated to helping you and your students have healthy first year college transitions and positive and successful college experiences.

These college and university professionals care. This was evident as they taught sessions and shared ideas on how to best support parents and students. They truly care about helping your student learn to manage time and expectations, problem solve, self-regulate and take personal responsibility. They understand the pressures students are under and are all about getting them the support they need to be successful, healthy college students. They care about helping you through the practical and emotional aspects of sending your kid off to school. They understand that the cost of college and the fear of students not succeeding can be overwhelming for many families. They know this time of transition is both exciting and scary—for both parents and students.

But here’s the coolest thing! They don’t just talk the talk, they take action! They research, digging deep into how the minds of our students work. They understand that a GenX parent is going to think differently than a GenZ student. They strive to open up lines of intergenerational communication. And they work to create a healthy student-parent-university partnership.

What does this partnership look like?

It is a balancing act of all three parties working together toward the same goal, with the student at the top, taking the lead.

The parental role
Parents, I feel you. Actually, I am one of you and currently “parenting” a college student of my own. As parents, we often have a consumer mentality. We are investing big bucks and want a return on our investment, right?

On the plus side, we have a focused, vested interested in our students’ successes. This is a good thing. Studies show students with engaged parents and families are more likely to succeed. But on the flip side, we can sometimes take our consumer mentality—and service expectations—to an extreme.

For example, one director of parent and family programming told me about a situation where a mom called her frustrated about her college student. “My daughter refuses to fill out her tax forms. She won’t listen to me. Can you contact her and force her to fill them out?”

Um, no.

This is definitely not the role of the university in our partnership triangle. They cannot “force” our students to do anything. And they are limited to what they can share with us, even as partners. Federal laws (FERPA) prevent them from discussing too much.

In another example, a parent called the dean of students office at her daughter’s large, out-of-state university explaining that the student had just returned to her campus housing from the clinic and that she “almost has pneumonia.” The distraught parent then went on to explain that her daughter, a 21-year-old, wasn’t sick enough to be admitted to the hospital but needed to have someone stay with her. The mom’s expectations were that campus staff would place an employee around-the-clock at her daughter’s bedside until she recovered.

Again, no. Of course, the parent was concerned and scared about her daughter’s wellbeing. What parent wouldn’t be? We all know that when our kids hurt, we hurt, and that our instinct is to fix. But this parent’s expectations were not realistic. Paying tuition does not give us the right to expect 24/7 bedside care.

Universities are partners and an advocates, not babysitters or personal nurses.

How can we gauge our involvement as parents?
We must remember that part of learning to “adult” is to allow students the opportunity to seek solutions and solve problems in challenging situations. If you’ve heard me speak on this topic, you’re familiar with what I call the ULTIMATE GOAL of parenting…

Healthy, happy adults equipped to survive in the real world.

If you use this ultimate goal as a gauge, you will help your student mature and develop the survival skills necessary to become a successful adult. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself in relation to your role in the student-parent-university partnership:

  • Are my demands and expectations of university staff realistic?
  • Or are they perhaps excessive?
  • Are my expectations ultimately going to serve my student’s growth and development?
  • Do they encourage my student’s ability to self-regulate and problem solve?
  • How can I encourage my student to become self-sufficient and grow the skills necessary to manage challenges both now and later on in life?

This partnership is a 3-way street
Our partnership triangle with the student at the top means we need to keep our students in the loop and their development top of mind. It also means we need to give them the first opportunities to problem solve—not to dive in and fix problems for them.

We can listen. We can support. We can give our students time to process and problem solve. We can also reach out to our partners at the universities when we truly need advice on how to proceed. These professionals are experts in student development and retention and share the same ultimate goal we do. They have done the research and are more than willing to share suggestions and best practices on how you, as a parent, can best nurture your student.

Parents, trust these partners and work together to help your student become a healthy, happy adult equipped to survive in the real world.


If you haven’t already done so, please sign up for my monthly e-update (link is on my home page at I will be sharing more information from this conference (and these higher ed experts) to help you empower your college student for success, including:

  • teaching resilience
  • encouraging personal accountability & self-regulation
  • developing problem solving skills
  • the latest research on anxiety and mental health
  • intergenerational communication

Get more parental support. Order your copy of Out to Sea today!

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