Head: Leaving the nest: Parents can prepare themselves, students for college's start
By Monique Harrison
Shannon's Vickie Arledge has spent plenty of time analyzing son Jason's move to Delta State University this fall.
"I've thought about a lot of different concerns," she said. "We've been working for years to prepare him for this day. I've thought about the basic things - wondering if he'll have clean clothes. He knows how to do all that but I still think about it. He's a good money manager, so that makes me feel better. I just hope he manages his time and gets to class - stays awake. He's a Christian and I hope he stays there. There's going to be so much pressure."
Arledge is far from alone in her concerns, which she says have diminished as the summer has passed.
"I've watched parents - especially mothers - help move their children in that first day," said University of Mississippi residence hall director and graduate student Katrina Williams. "They do pretty well until it's time to actually get in the car and leave. Then, everyone starts hugging and mothers start looking scared and crying. They're scared to leave their children with us. Students usually look a little scared, too, but they don't want everyone to see them cry so they try to be brave."
But there are a number of things both parents and college-bound students can do to make the transition easier.
Let students save the day
Many times, parents are too eager to dash in and save the day.
"Parents are used to jumping in and saving students from problems,"said Roy Ruby, Mississippi State University's Vice President for Student Affairs. "But college is a time when students should learn to solve their own problems. If they aren't allowed to make decisions and make some mistakes, they won't learn."
Parents are often most eager to jump in when roommates become a problem.
"Parents generally hear about some roommate difficulties," Ruby said. "A roommate is a very important person. No roommate is perfect. When there's a problem, I just encourage both roommates to do everything they can to bend over backwards to accommodate the other person. There's a lot of give and take when two people are sharing a room. It's a wonderful learning experience if parents stay out of it."
Should I call every day?
Another obvious concern shared by many parents of college-bound students involves communication.
"Parents aren't going to hear from or see their offspring as much," Ruby said. "That seems obvious, but it's hard for some parents to accept."
The amount of contact needed by students varies wildly, but Ruby said many MSU students talk to their parents about once a week.
"As a rule of thumb, once a week seems wise," he said. "I wouldn't call or write every day. It doesn't give students the freedom they need to develop away from parents and other family members."
In many cases, it's probably a good idea to allow students to initiate communication.
"I'd let the student establish the routine," Ruby said. "When they feel they need to talk to you, they'll usually call."
But Vicky Arledge said she has already given her son lectures about calling regularly.
"I think as long as I hear from him -as long as I have a general idea he's OK - I'll be fine," the mother of two said. "I'll miss him and my life will change. But I'm already preparing for that. I don't expect him to call every day. But I want him to call."
Talking it through
Son Jason said his family's willingness to discuss the changes that come with college has been helpful.
"We've talked about it a lot," the 18-year-old said. "I've heard the lectures. I've heard the worries. There's really not anything we can't talk about together."
Jason said all college-bound students should try to keep the lines of communication open.
"You're affecting everyone around you," he said. "It's only fair to listen to questions and concerns and to talk about what worries you."
Even students who commute to college and live at home still experience significant changes in their lifestyle and their relationship with parents.
Mooreville High School graduate Jeremy Martin said he expects college to be very different from high school.
"There's going to be a big change in what's expected," said Martin, who plans to attend Itawamba Community College. "In high school, everything is kind of spoon fed."
Martin also expects to devote more time to extracurricular activities.
"Colleges offer a lot more activities than most high schools," he said. "I'm going to be busy with different activities. I probably won't be home as much."
College students who commute from home often find their relationship with parents changes almost as much as that of students who leave home.
"I'm the first person in my immediate family to go to college," Martin said. "They are pretty happy about that. With that comes more expectations - responsibility. Because I have more responsibility, I get more freedom. With maturity, you get to do more."
Many new college students worry that they will struggle with college-level work.
"One of the top concerns of both parents and students is the level of college work," Ruby said. "But most are fully capable of doing the work. Very few have problems."
Community colleges and universities typically offer counseling services and tutorial services to students who struggle to adjust.
Some students get into trouble because they fail to manage their time.
"Students should try to keep up with their reading assignments and other classwork from the first day," Ruby said. "In most classes, one day's work builds on the next. It's very easy to get too far behind."
Williams, a psychology major from Shuqualak, said freshmen should use a planner.
"When I was a freshman, I saw all these people with nice little planners and I thought, 'yeah, right," Williams said. "But I ended up getting one and it helped me to keep on top of things."
Williams recommends planning things a semester at a time.
"It's a good idea to plan your entire semester," she said. "Most students write assignments, tests, club activities and social activities on the calendar. It helps them to manage their activities and to make sure they have time for everything."
Above all, Ruby said college-bound students and their parents should be encouraged.
"Parents and students should remember they've worked for this," Ruby said. "For parents, this may seem sad. But the fact is, they have been successful parents. They have prepared their child to go to college. It would be very sad to have a child who never left home - never did anything on their own. This is certainly a very good thing."