Posted: 8:46 am Friday, August 22nd, 2014

Parenting a college student 

By Helena Oliviero

For more than 30 years, Emory University psychology professor Marshall Duke has given an annual speech to auditoriums full of nervous parents preparing to leave their child at the university. Covering everything from resisting daily communication to letting students solve their own problems, Duke’s entertaining and frank speeches provide practical advice about what parents can expect during a student’s first year of classes and how to adjust to the changes in their lives and their child’s.

Here’s a video of one of his speeches.

Duke will soon give his last parent speeches at Emory’s orientation this weekend (he’s not retiring; he’s just decided it’s time to step aside). Whoever gives this speech in the future has some very big shoes to fill. For any parent who is a soon-to-be empty nester, this video is full of good advice, told in a candid, heartfelt and at times very funny way. Here are a few nuggets of Duke’s wisdom for parents of new college students:

  • Prepare meaningful parting words for your child (I love you, I’m proud of you, I’ll always be there for you) or write a handwritten letter to express your feelings.
  • Don’t change your child’s room for at least the first year at school – they may need a safe haven.
  • Don’t expect daily contact or initiate it.
  • Don’t expect the same grades your child had in high school – college doesn’t produce nearly as many A’s as some parents and student are accustomed to.
  • When a problem arises, move like your feet are stuck in molasses – give your child a chance to solve the problem independently.
11 comments
DBOrig
DBOrig

Ah, college . . . :-)  I still vividly remember the undergraduate dean's speech at parent orientation (held during the summer while my son was having his own orientation.)  She gave every parent her cell phone number (class of 4,000 - brave woman), and then proceeded, humorously, to illustrate when NOT to use it.  Some of her comments were hilarious, and all had happened at one point or another -- "Do NOT call me and ask me details about the young man your daughter is going out on a date with on Friday."  "If your son didn't call you back after saying, "talk to you later", please wait more than 15 minutes before hitting the panic button."  Myu daughter and I still giggle at a roommate's parents who insisted that she be in her room and in bed by midnight -- and had her phone rigged for GPS to check up on her.  It never occurred to them that it was easy to leave the phone on the desk while she was out partying "with the volume turned down, because I don't want to disturb my roommate."  


My kids' high school had a "college look-ahead" for all the seniors and their parents.  It was interesting -- and funny.  They had asked the students and parents to complete a survey, and had the results that evening.  They asked the students what their biggest worries were about going to college.  It was surprising how many of them mentioned that they were worried about their room at home disappearing.  The question of "how much of a budget will you have for expenses?" was amusing -- from "none" to "2,000 per month"  They asked what the kids were looking forward to most -- freedom.  Then they asked the same thing of the parents.  Suffice to say that the answers were enlightening. :-) 


One parent mentioned that they were happy to have access to their child's checking account, so that they could make sure they were spending their money wisely.  More experienced parents smiled, and suggested that living on ramen noodles for a week after blowing their money wasn't going to hurt them -- and would be far more effective in teaching them how to manage their money.  


The most amusing bits of advice was a) don't show up on campus unannounced, and b) if you had a son, help him get his room set up, admire it, then turn around, walk out and NEVER RETURN -- it will NEVER look that nice agan. :-)  


It was also enlightening listening to the questions other parents had.  One parent was very worried that her child would be in a dorm -- or maybe even a ROOM -- with an upperclassman, and she didn't want her child being exposed to "older students with bad habits, like drugs or alcohol."  (At my son's university, students who were of legal age were permitted to have personal supplies of liquor in the dorm.)  Others were concerned about how the R.A.'s would be monitoring their child's coming and goings (they wouldn't), and what they, as parents, should do if their child's roommate didn't work out (nothing -- let them handle it.) 

TheOldMan
TheOldMan

The hardest thing about parenting teenagers, college kids, and adult children is allowing them to fail.  If you don't start early, if you helicopter them and don't allow them to suffer the consequences of their own actions or the vagaries of fate, then they will be unable to handle adulthood and will crash and burn.

motherjanegoose1
motherjanegoose1

I was the first to post in this topic.y post was here but is now gone. Helena, I trying to be supportive but Iftar post gets kicked out, that will not continue. I have been through 12 years of children in college. I know one or two things. I have had a difficult time signing in and want to stay with you but maybe it is kit meant to be.

LegolasMirkwood
LegolasMirkwood

It's the trials and tribulations of going to college.  Every four years you can get the latest and I appreciate the people who take the time to do that all day every day.


You learn to wipe your butt and your teeth and what it costs to do all that on your own, credit cards, debt and marriage.  Crazy cretins find their own way in the world, though.  They are who they will be and should be smacked down when they get "out of line", as you see it.  Encourage them as you can.  They will be their own person, whatever that may come to be.  A good person is the best to hope for.

Motheroftwins
Motheroftwins

Thank you for posting this.  The twins are headed off to college and this was a very helpful speech for me to hear. 

TnTsMom
TnTsMom

I agree with everything mentioned. We did not attend any kind of parent thing when my son went to college. We helped unload his stuff into the dorm, set up, took him to lunch and left. We had prepared him, (we thought). ..... he only made it one semester. He did not get the idea that going to class was a good idea, so after failing grades, he came home in December. We told him that if he wanted to go to college, he would have to find a way to pay for it on his own. so, he joined the Army National Guard. 


Fast forward 3 years He is on his own, pays his own way, all college costs, rent, food, gas and spending money. We help with his car insurance and phone bill as it is cheaper on our plans than for him on his own.  He gets Army tuition assistance, GI Bill, works a part time job and is in ROTC. He also serves one weekend a month for the Guard and two weeks a year. We are very, very proud of him. 


Moral of the story is, you can prepare them, you can get, and follow, all sorts of good advice. Once they are are on their own, making their own decisions, they will do what they want.  You have to just be ready to be only moral support. And maybe help pick them back up when they fail. 


Surelyyoujest
Surelyyoujest

I told my kids I would be there unless they got arrested - then they were on their own because they knew better than that, and if they were dumb enough to get in trouble with the law then they were smart enough to deal with it themselves!

motherjanegoose1
motherjanegoose1

Perhaps I am taken out due to terrible typing. That would be fair:).

motherjanegoose1
motherjanegoose1

Good for your son for getting back on the horse and finding a way. He will be a better person because of it.

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  1. […] Parenting a university scholar For greater than 30 years, Emory College psychology professor Marshall Duke has given an annual speech to auditoriums filled with nervous mother and father getting ready to go away their youngster on the college. Overlaying every thing from resisting day by day communication to … Learn extra on Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) […]