Parenting Kids in College: Time to Let Go

du university of denver logoWhen you have toddlers, tweens or even teens, it’s hard to imagine a day when you won’t have ’em underfoot. From meals to cleanup, clothes to the daily grind of parenting, lots of exhausted parents forget that there’ll come a day – hopefully! – when your little minions have jumped ship and are on their own adult adventures. The starting point for about 70% of today’s kids is college and while the helicopter parent generation seems to want to stay connected, fact is that college is a great time for parents to let go see the fruits of their parental labor.

But while many do, there are all too many parents that just can’t quite seem to let go. And kids who seem to be happy having their parents managing everything from afar.

I’m a member of a popular Facebook group called DU Parents (DU = Denver University) and it’s fascinating to read the posts: Whether the kids want it or not, parents post all the time about tiny, simple problems that should be easily solved by their youngsters. Does the laundry in Building X take quarters? Can you ride a skateboard across campus? Where can a sick student get cold medicine? What should you do if two classes are scheduled really close but are across campus?

the university of denver campus

Colleges are staffed with people whose job it is to answer all of these basic questions, from Resident Advisors in the dorms to online forums to counselors who can help with questions of what classes to take, in what order, where buildings are located, how to deal with scheduling problems etc. There are also professors in a given discipline who can assist too, of course, particularly when it comes to assignments, grades and specific class schedule puzzles.

see the problem helicopter parentingMy college professor friends tell me about parents who call to complain about grades their children got on assignments, threats they receive (I kid you not) from these same parents, and complaints departments get about instructors who don’t meet a perceived level of support or behavior. Should parents be involved? Perhaps, but only in the most egregious situations. A bad grade on a paper is something that the student should be able to either accept – shirk on the work, get a bad grade – or figure out how to protest through existing academic channels. After all, there have been institutions of higher learning around for hundreds of years, plenty of time to figure out how to make things reasonably fair and equitable. Meanwhile there are now entire Web sites offering advice to college professors about how to deal with helicopter parents. No kidding.

For my own part, I have two children at DU currently, my son’s a sophomore and my daughter a junior. I know what classes they’re taking but not what assignments they’re working on. Honestly, the fact that I don’t have to be involved, that I’m not proofreading papers pre-submission or worrying about how they are going to navigate their schedules is fantastic. Instead of creating a sense of them being incompetent – which leads inevitably to insecurity and, all too often, a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy of them not being able to cope with the day-to-day – I celebrate their accomplishments and autonomy both.

Now, for those of you who have children in college, how hands off are you really? Are you concerned they might not be able to succeed? Then don’t you think it’s better for them to find out and learn how to make their life a success rather than continue to rely on your even as they move into their 20’s?

Your mileage and experience may differ, and I’m sure there are parents who will be offended by what I’ve written. Families that are so co-dependent that none of them can imagine not being woven into a single tapestry, whether in college or subsequently in their work lives. Good luck to ’em, but I don’t believe that creates happy and resilient young adults. Do you?

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