Congratulations! You have made it through eighteen years of parenting and your child is ready to embark on that great personal journey called the college years. You are not alone if you feel a mixture of excitement and dread as you send your child off to college. Few parents really know what to expect from the college years. At best, you may have a slim brochure from the school's admissions office telling you about the academic and social aspects of college life for your child. And you will certainly have heard from the office that collects tuition. But what about your adjustment to the changes about to take place?
As your child grew up, you had plenty of advice about child rearing from books, family members, and friends. You probably noticed that these resources dwindled as your child approached the teen years. Somehow talking about teens and their developmental issues is harder than talking about toilet training and the adjustment to nursery school. Why? Because the issues get scarier and your teenager's need to pull away from the family and create a separate identity can be both troubling and rewarding. You may be confused and even embarrassed by your child's behavior as he experiments with being an adult. This happens most dramatically during the college years.
Parents of our generation have been, and continue to be, more involved in our children's education and development than any generation in American history. We are the parents who took childbirth classes, debated the merits of nursery schools, arranged play dates, carpooled to soccer games, organized violin lessons, and took the grand college tour. We have consumed parenting "how to" books in record numbers. But, until now, there has not been a practical guide that offers concrete advice on how to manage the challenges and changes that accompany our children's college years.
What parent hasn't waited anxiously for a phone call from college and then not received one? What parent hasn't asked, "What is my role now that my child is away from home?" "Why does my child seem so independent one minute but confused and indecisive the next?" "How will I know if my child is in trouble and what should I do about it?" "Who is this person with a new tattoo and an attitude sitting at the Thanksgiving dinner table?" "Why does she seem to reject all of the values we taught her?" "Will my child get a good job after college and have her own health insurance?" "What in the world will he do with a degree in art history?" And what parent hasn't questioned the cost of college and wondered if it was worth it?
Drawing on adolescent development theory and our years of experience with undergraduates and parents, we provide practical advice to parents on these and other questions. Through the use of dialogues and scenarios, this book demonstrates how parents can adjust their expectations to anticipate the inevitable transformation in the parent-child relationship. We encourage parents to adopt a mentor/advisor role, showing, through actual examples, how important it is to relinquish control and instead provide guidance and support. We also offer communication and problem-solving strategies that support the development of a healthy adult-to-adult relationship that will serve you well in the years to come.
Each of us has had more than two decades of experience working with college students and their parents at small liberal arts colleges, state schools, and some of America's most prestigious universities. Our insights result from focus group research with both parents and undergraduates, as well as from years of counseling and program development, including parent-orientation programs, parents weekends, and new student orientations.
Focus groups conducted in seven cities across the country with parents of college students revealed how eager they are for practical information and advice. Parents from Long Island to San Francisco had similar worries about their children's college experience-safety and health, adjustment issues, money concerns, sex and drugs, academic success, and career prospects. Most of all, they were confused about their new role in their children's lives. Our research highlighted the unique challenges that parents encounter as their children become legal adults, but far from independent. We also conducted focus groups with college juniors and found that parents continue to play a significant role in students' decision making, especially when those students were examining their values and beliefs, or facing critical life choices.
Students in Chrissie's course in adolescent development at Cornell University are required to write and analyze an autobiography of their adolescence. Reading more than one hundred autobiographies each year has given her an intimate view of the lives of today's college students. These autobiographies typically include candid descriptions of relationships, sex, drugs, families, emotional problems, and other personal matters.
As director of the Parents' Program at Cornell University, Helen surveyed more than twelve thousand parents from all parts of the country to determine their primary concerns and to find out what information they expected from the university. Helen also corresponded with more than six thousand parents in response to specific problems, and counseled more than two thousand parents by telephone and in person on a variety of issues.
This book will help you cope with the major issues that face parents of college students today. It will show you how to achieve a new relationship with your emerging adult child by understanding the developmental changes that will occur during the college years and by examining and managing the expectations you have for your child.
You have a fascinating job ahead as your child goes off to college. While you will always be your child's parent, the college years signal a change in that relationship-a change this book will help you to understand and even celebrate. You've done the hard work of raising a child capable of going to college and you deserve recognition, consideration, and support. We trust this book will encourage and sustain you during this change.