Preparing for the Shift: Do's & Don'ts of Parenting a College Student


Hi! My name is Allison, and I recently completed my undergraduate work at UNC-Wilmington. I am currently in grad school at NC State getting my Masters in Social Work (Go Pack!), and am an intern in the Work/Life Center here at SAS. I am assisting Work/Life with aspects of the 2017 College Series to help prepare parents for this rapidly approaching life change.

With spring in full fling and summer quickly approaching, I am sure thoughts of your student heading off to college may be already causing some anxiety. I promise, this is normal! One concern that may be crossing your mind is what the parent-student relationship will look like once your emerging adult leaves home to begin their college career. I would like to share my experience (and perhaps ease this concern a bit) by breaking the relationship shift down into five frequently faced topics that were relevant for me, along with some suggestions for communication. To help give the perspective of a student in these tips, I am sharing with you some of my college experiences with each topic.


To this day, my dad claims he knew exactly when I was calling for money in college. He always chuckles at this and says I got a certain tone in my voice that was different than usual right before I asked “Um, Dad? Would you be able to deposit more money into my account soon?” The truth is, on my end, there was so much anxiety built around these phone calls. I knew that I was only asking for the agreed-on monthly allowance, but it still felt rather selfish to be asking. The last thing I wanted to be was a financial burden on my family.


  • Have this conversation with your student before they leave for college.
  • Break down financial expectations: Will your student receive support? What will this look like?
  • Be honest about current and future financial hardships and struggles.
  • Suggest your student get a part-time job if financial help is needed (e.g., if they have a car).
  • Work on budgeting skills with your student before college.


  • Promise your student a monthly allowance that is not feasible.
  • Break the financial agreement you both settled on.


I still remember the feeling I had when my parents left me in my dorm. I was uneasy, unsure, and surrounded by unfamiliar people in an unfamiliar place. I relied heavily on my parents and daily phone calls the first few weeks until I began to make friendships, transition into this new environment, and step in my life. Slowly, I started to gain a sense of independence, and began to be more comfortable in my new role. Phone calls home became less frequent, and I found myself no longer anxiously waiting for them to call me. Every student is different, so be aware and accepting that yours may have a more difficult (or easier!) time adjusting.


  • Discuss with your student what you both would like the communication to look like. Set a day that you feel would work for both of you to talk.
  • Plan to check-in on your student on a regular basis as they are transitioning during the first few weeks in college.
  • Consider sending care packages around mid-terms and finals to show you’re thinking of them.
  • Prepare yourself that there may come a time when your student is too busy to talk. Take this as a good thing; he or she is likely having a positive transition to college.


  • Beg your student to come home frequently. Suggest that you visit your student at the campus rather than allowing them to come home the first six weeks. Bonding with fellow students on the weekends is critical during those first weeks.
  • Make your student feel as though you won’t be able to function without them home.
  • Be alarmed if you student is reaching out very frequently in the first couple months.
  • Likewise, don’t be alarmed if he or she is not always reaching out or calling in the first few months.
  • Get angry with or make your student feel guilty for not calling as often as they transition.


Although a dreaded topic, grades do matter, and even more so when parents or their students are investing tens of thousands of dollars. Before, you had access to your student’s performance in school; however, this access changes when they go to college due to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Consent from your son/daughter is required.


  • Discuss FERPA with your student and decide as a family whether or not to have him or her grant access to online grade reports.
  • Convey your confidence in his or her capability to be successful in college courses.
  • Encourage your student to gain awareness of campus resources available for providing help with challenging courses. (e.g.: writing centers, tutoring labs, etc.)


  • Assume that your student will be irresponsible and not focus on their grades.
  • Set ultimatums for achieving a certain GPA.
  • Expect reports from your student with every grade they receive.


Your student will begin to face challenges they may not have previously dealt with, especially without mom and/or dad there to help. This can be worrisome for the parents and make them feel the need to rescue their son or daughter. However, in this new season of life, try to let your student begin to problem-solve on their own and transition to communicating as a mentor/coach in order to encourage his or her personal growth. As one parent blogger stated…it’s more important that you are preparing your child for the path than preparing the path for your child.[i]


  • Provide a listening ear and empathy.
  • Ask questions such as, “What do you think you are going to do?”
  • Suggest your child to look into resources on campus, such as the counseling center or residence advisor (RA).


  • Offer unsolicited advice. Sometimes issues are brought up just to vent.
  • Problem-solve for your student.


This is a serious topic, for both males and females and something both parents and students should be prepared for. My campus was well-lit and had ample call-boxes that would link directly with security should a problem arise. Regardless, I still never traveled across campus without a friend- or two. Despite the precautions the University took, I remember hearing of various incidents such as assaults on campus. These things can still happen, and it is a critical conversation to have with your student before they venture off to college.


  • Bring this up prior to the start of school and develop safety plans with your student.
  • Have your student become familiar with resources the campus will offer before school starts.
  • Acknowledge that your student is an adult and is able to handle these circumstances as such if they occur.


  • Put fear into your student that something will definitely happen.
  • Make light of the situation.
  • Suggest that you do not think your student has good judgment.



About Author

Page Cvelich

College/Teen Program Manager

Page Cvelich has brought a wealth of knowledge to the Work/Life Center from prior experience as a high school guidance counselor and parent education coordinator. Page has been responsible for setting up a high school college and career center, designing a career exploration program for teens and serving as a counselor at a backpacking camp in the Rockies. In her role as Teen/College Program Manager, Page enjoys interacting with small groups of parents and teens, as well as consulting one-on-one with parents and referring them to resources so that they are better able to provide the support and encouragement their kids need.

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