Parenting College Kids

I just returned from parent visiting weekend at my daughter’s university. In addition to two terrific concerts – one by the Turtle Island Quartet and one in which my daughter’s choir sang – I got to attend her Freshman Studies class and listen to a spirited discussion of Plato’s Republic and, of course, take my daughter shopping for several things she probably could have bought herself (except that would have meant the money came out of her pocket rather than mine).

Elena is enormously happy with her choice of school, as are my husband and I. She settled in easily, has been making some great friends, is enjoying and doing well in her classes and is actually eating healthily and getting to the wellness center to exercise most days of the week.

Nonetheless, there was one thing I come away wondering about. I saw evidence of something friends whose children are a bit older than Elena have already told me: that the general level of parent involvement in the lives of their college students is much greater than when I went to college. For example, parents seem to think it is their job to monitor the school’s website for internship and other opportunities their children might take advantage of. One of my friends told me she knows of parents who get copies of their kids’ syllabi for courses so they can remind them when they have papers due. And I could give other examples.

I think there is a real danger here. College is an important growth time. It is the time for our children to start to learn how to manage their lives in a meaningful way, to learn to take responsibility for things. Being supportive and letting our kids know we are there for them is important, as is making sure the school has in place systems for making sure students are not getting lost. But college students also need some space to grow, including the space to make a few mistakes along the way.

How to manage that balance is obviously a matter for individual discernment. But I do think parents have to think hard about whether their involvement in a particular way is really in the best interest of their child and his or her ability to grow. Sometimes it may be our own anxieties we are concerned about.

I don’t know that I’ll always get the balance right. But one thing I do know with certainty, and that is that God’s got Elena’s back always and that wherever she is, God is.