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Helen Smith

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June 2, 2012 - 4:54 am

I am reading a new updated version of the book Getting the Best Out of College, Revised and Updated: Insider Advice for Success from a Professor, a Dean, and a Recent Grad. The book gives tips for students on how to cope with being in college and some of the tips have to do with dealing with your parents back home now that you are “on your own.”

There is a chapter on leaving home and how to maintain your relationships with your parents now that you no longer live under their roof. Of course, the first part of the chapter sterotypically describes the “antiquated” parents and their version of what their kid will go through in this new environment and how difficult it will be for the parents, especially mom, to let go. However, the authors are quite insightful in that they look at two different emotional reactions to a child leaving for college: neediness or dismissal.

There is a section on the “too-involved” parent who wants to be involved in many aspects of the student’s life such as grades, medical issues, etc. Frankly, given that parents have to pay for the hefty fees that colleges charge, I don’t blame them for wanting some information. According to the book, there are federal laws that restrict communication between the parent and school — for example, a student’s educational record can generally not be shared without the student’s authorization. It’s one thing to be a “helicopter parent” trying to micro-manage your kid’s life, and another to be concerned that their child is healthy and doing well in school. Frankly, given that students are not allowed to be independent and receive aid and must rely on their parents to pay for the most part, this seems fairly hypocritical. “Hand us the money” but you have no right to certain information, including the grades that you are paying for your child to get.

Anyway, the other type of parents mentioned in the book is too-distant parents who have lost all interest or concern for their kid now that he or she has left home and are anxious to return to the life they had before their child was born. This often leaves the student feeling alone and abandoned, according to the book, and if the parents pull their funding, it can end up with the student dropping out of school. Schools have made it really difficult, as on one hand, they treat students like kids who will always be funded by mom and dad, and on the other, they treat them like grown-ups when it suits their purpose. It’s no wonder parents (and students) are often frustrated.

I suppose there is a happy medium here somewhere. If you have a comment or story about how you dealt with your child leaving home, or if your child is about to leave home, how are you coping?

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at Dr. Helen.
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