Parenting Insight and Resources

Entering college is a significant milestone for students, one that reverberates throughout the family. It can take time and work to get accustomed to your student's growing independence, both for you and for your student. 

Developmental Stages and the Transition to College Life

Although each student—and each family—is unique, some issues commonly emerge for parents and families. It may be helpful for you to reflect on some of the many changes taking place for your student during this time of life:

  • Greater Independence 
    College students learn to take care of themselves in important new ways, and they become increasingly self-reliant while still depending on their parents in other ways.
  • Developing Intimacy
    Typically, students develop strong ties with peers—including intimate partners—and develop greater self-awareness within relationships.
  • Changing Role in the Family 
    Students need to re-negotiate important aspects of their family relationships, including their roles and boundaries within the family.
  • Intellectual Growth
    College is a time when students experience rapid intellectual growth and explore new and different ideas, opinions, and ways of thinking.
  • Identity Development
    Students at this age are exploring different facets of their identity and may experiment with different styles and behaviors.

For more information, visit Set to Go, a program that guides students and families through the social, emotional, and mental health challenges related to transitioning out of high school and into college and adulthood.

Tips for Parenting Through the College Years

Every family will likely have their own experience of this life passage, with their own particular challenges, joys, expectations, and concerns. Here are a few ideas to help nurture a growth-promoting and satisfying relationship with your college student throughout their college years:

  • Set reasonable expectations about academics. Your student may have been a super academic achiever in high school but may not get straight A's in college. Help them to accept that doing the best they can is terrific, even if they do not make the Dean's List. If they truly do need academic assistance, encourage them to seek it out. 
  • Be a good listener. Support your student in exploring options and finding their own solutions, without taking it upon yourself to solve problems for them. Remind them about the resources available to them at Tufts, and encourage them to seek those out for further assistance. The Student Life website is a good place to start. 
  • Be emotionally supportive. Be positive and encouraging, but don't push your student to follow a particular course of action or pressure them about majors or grades. You can express your own opinions; imposing your opinions on your student, however, will likely create unproductive conflict.
  • Stay in touch. It can be tricky to walk the line between maintaining a connection with your student and giving them the space they need at this age. Email, letters, care packages, and phone calls or texts from home can help fight homesickness. Express interest in your student’s experiences at school by asking them about their classes, activities, and friends.
  • Ask them what they need from you. When you are not sure what to do, it is okay to ask your student what they feel they need from you at that moment. They may want you to just listen, for example, while they "vent" about something, without being told how to handle it. Perhaps they need sympathy, a hug, a visit, a phone call, or some distance.
  • Get the support you need. This can be a confusing time and may sometimes even feel like an emotional rollercoaster. One day your student may reach out for your support, the next day rejecting any offer of help. Stay in touch with your own supportive friends and relatives, and talk with other parents who have been—or are now going through—the same thing.

Popular Books for Parents

  • The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College, Harlan Cohen (2017)
  • The iConnected Parent: Staying Close to Your Kids in College (and Beyond) While Letting Them Grow Up, Hoffer (2013)
  • Letting Go: A Parents' Guide to Understanding the College Years, Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger (2016)
  • The Campus Cure: A Parent's Guide to Mental Health and Wellness for College Students, Morris, (2018)

Resources for Parents and Families