Letting Go

For years, Stefanie Mullen elevated blogging about “eye-rolling, door-slamming teens and tweens” into an art form. Now she has something new to write about.

Letting go.

Mullen’s oldest son, Keenan, will be leaving their suburban San Diego home for Providence College in a few months, and Mullen is facing the same anxiety that tens of thousands of parents with college-bound children experience every fall.

“I’m a miserable wreck sometimes,” she said. “The hardest part is looking in the mirror and asking myself, `Gosh, did I do a good job? Is he going to do the right thing and make the right choices?’”

Education experts say parents need to come to grips with the fact that their little cherubs have grown into independent adults and have faith they will act responsibly. They add, however, that even though the relationship is changing, parents need to stay connected.

“Parents need to be actively involved, but their roles are going to be different,” said Jaime Gresley, director of New Students & Family Programs at the University of Florida. “Parents need to make sure they are well versed on available resources so they can help coach their students.”

Michelle Guerra, a parent liaison at San Diego State University, offered a similar thought: A parent who is versed in the programs and resources available at their child’s college can be invaluable to the student. 

“We don’t believe in the notion of letting go,” Guerra said. “We believe in the notion that the dynamic is changing.” 

A growing number of colleges have web pages for parents linking them to such things as support groups, hotlines, university contacts, scholarship opportunities and more. And it is now common for colleges and universities to offer parent orientation programs. 

“I see families as partners,” Gresley said.

College officials warn, however, that parents who try to involve themselves too much in their child’s life risk a backlash. “Kids who thrive the most have parents who recognize that there is a transition taking place here,” said Sarah Boeder, executive vice president of Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. 

One of the hardest transitions Boeder sees is when a parent realizes he or she does not have access to their child’s academic or financial records. “That child is now an adult, and unless the parents have been authorized to see that information, we cannot release it to them.”

Tech-savvy parents can keep abreast of their child’s progress through social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, and they might want to have long-distance conversations with them using video calling services such as Skype. College officials say sending care packages to their child also can do wonders.

Boeder said parents with the most success in letting go are those who accompany their child on college tours, which can put a parent’s mind at ease. “You have to understand that your child is now an adult who will make his or her own decisions. But you want to find a school that will nurture and support their development,” she said.

Meanwhile, Mullen offers this advice to parents once they’ve seen their child walk out of the home and into the dorm: Take a relaxing vacation. “It will give you something to look forward to.”

David Ogul, Brand Publishing Writer

Jaime Gresley, director of New Students & Family Programs at the University of Florida, said that parents need to have a communication plan before their child heads off to college. “A student may not be available every hour, every day. Know their schedule, and know when it is appropriate to call.” Parents today have many resources when it comes to keeping in touch with their children and what is happening at the school. Among them:

Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter
While Facebook offers a great opportunity to have casual conversations with your student, Twitter offers a great opportunity to view the conversations they are having with others.

Spend-smart cards offered by various financial institutions
These debit cards, such as those offered via www.billmyparents.com, not only enable a parent to put money into an account, they also notify the parent by text message when the child spends some of that money. “Every time he makes a purchase, I know about it,” said blogger Stefanie Mullen, whose son is enrolling at Providence College this fall. “I can go, ‘Oh, look. He just spent $50 on candy at the corner market.’ It sort of serves as a GPS device.”

College websites
Most include parent pages that have links to parent hotlines and directories of who to contact for various emergencies.

Online crime reports
Parents and students can download detailed statistics, including reported sexual assaults, via the U.S. Department of Education website ope.ed.gov/security/index.aspx.

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