Getting parents ready for their kids to go to college


College counselors and other representatives are keenly aware of just how difficult it can be for parents to transition from a family of four or five to, little by little, a family of two — without children. Through speeches, PowerPoint presentations and one-on-one conversations, they cover everything from resisting daily communication to letting students solve their own problems.

For more than 30 years, Emory University psychology professor Marshall Duke has given an annual speech to auditoriums full of nervous parents dropping off their kids at college. First of all, Duke said, it’s important for parents to know the fear, anxiety, sadness — all of it is normal.


Professor Duke in his office


“Change is always hard,” Duke said. “When someone is going off to college, it is a big change and separation is always marked by a bit of sadness. I tell parents: You have to know, feeling nothing is the worst because that would mean you wouldn’t have a connection to that child.”

Duke said leaving children at college gives parents a special opportunity to say things to children that will stick.

“What thoughts, feelings and advice do you want to stick?” Duke says in his speech. “‘Always make your bed!’ ‘Don’t wear your hair like that!’ Surely not. This is the moment to tell them the big things. Things you feel about them as children, as people. … Big things. Life-level things.” (To see one of Duke’s speeches, go to

Laci Weeden is director of Georgia Tech’s Parents Program, which provides parents with information and resources to help them stay connected to their children. Weeden encourages parents to send letters and care packages, and to use email, texting and phone calls to keep in touch. (She tells parents on average, college students communicate with their parents, whether it’s a phone call, text or Facebook, two to three times a week.)

One of the major points on the PowerPoint presentation: Try not to worry too much; you did a great job getting them here.

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Laci Weeden, director of the Parents Program at Georgia Tech, uses a tandem bicycle analogy to help parents embrace this next step in life:

  • When your child was younger, you sat in the front and steered the bicycle, you pedaled, and you most likely determined the destination; all while your child was on the back, their feet couldn’t reach the pedals, and they enjoyed the ride. You helped guide their path by suggesting music lessons, soccer, science camp, etc.
  • As they got older, their legs got longer and they were able to finally pedal and perhaps make some recommendations as to a destination. They shared what their interests were and what they wanted to do. Perhaps they shared that they didn’t want to do soccer anymore, but showed interest in playing a musical instrument instead. They were contributing to their journey.
  • Now that your student is in college, you will switch seats. The roles will change and the student will be on the front of the bike steering their own course, finding their own path in life, pedaling — and you the parent or family member are right there with them on the bike — pedaling, supporting and cheering.


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