How College Affects The Parent-Child Relationship

College presents an awesome opportunity for young people to discover themselves. It also presents potential new tension in the oft-awkward transition of the parent-child relationship.

Stephen M. Gavazzi, who teaches human sciences at Ohio State University, likened parenthood to coaching.

"The successful transition to college requires mothers and fathers to reshape their efforts into a role more akin to 'coach,' in large part because university life comes with the expectation that students are responsible for themselves," Gavazzi wrote in the Huffington Post.

"Whereas supervisors have active and direct oversight over the people they manage, coaches are found on the sidelines offering advice during timeouts and other breaks in the action," Gavazzi advised. "The parents of college students can and should be advised that their most appreciated involvement will come from the contact they have during the 'in between' times: a text message that can be replied to after class, a care package during final exams or dinner at a favorite restaurant over break."

Technology, according to Eryn Jelesiewicz at Temple University, has also played a large role in improving communication and understanding:

"Instead of checking in with parents once a week on a hallway dorm phone, students can now text message them throughout the day. Students and parents agree that the ability to stay in near-constant communication brings both benefits and challenges."

One mother, while attending the student-parent orientation at Temple University, looks at her "buzzing cell phone — it's another text from her son, the fourth since they'd arrived on campus. She writes back, with a twinge of guilt, 'You're not going to be able to take me with you to college.'"

Independence and responsibility are crucial for students to become adults.

Ryan Lovell, director of parent, family and alumni programs at Oklahoma State University, told The Lantern, "[The] maturation process of the brain means that students are continuing to develop who they are, which will impact the relationship dynamic with parents," he said. "As students gain a sense of self and independence, parents and family members must adapt to these changes and find ways to continue to support their students."

Lovell said these changes are generally positive, adding: "Relationships with parents and family members need to change in order to facilitate students becoming responsible for their own life experiences and developing the skills necessary to be successful in these experiences."

So, college students: Calling up mom and dad is a good thing. They do actually know a little bit about the world. But parents should not expect a call every day. There needs to be a balancing act.

Jane Rosen-Grandon, a mother and family relations blogger, related her own experience as a parent.

"As parents, it is our responsibility to see that our children have a variety of learning experiences. Some will be easy; others will be quite difficult," she wrote. "Parents can best help their children by simply standing behind them. We can't live their lives for them, but we can watch our children from the sidelines. Most importantly, our children need to know that we are cheering for, and not against them."

Scroll to read more College Guide articles
Join the San Antonio Current Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join SA Current Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.