Parents: When students get to college, let them go

Remember your first day at college? Mom and Dad were unloading the station wagon, helping unpack and organize your dorm room. They met roommates and kids down the hall. They treated everyone to lunch.

They were so friendly and helpful ... and they just would not go away.

Parents, as it turns out, need at least as much advice as their freshmen children when it comes to making a smooth transition in those first days and months of college life, experts say.

"Once your child is on campus, she or he has already begun making that important separation from you," says Voncile White, dean of first-year students at Wellesley (Mass.) College. She, like other longtime observers of freshmen, emphasizes another aspect of parting gracefully - personal space. If possible, parents should put some serious mileage between themselves and the new college student - and stay away.

Most parents do just fine. But some do not. "Parents need to leave town," says Sue Harvey, who along with her husband, Bob, was for nine years a resident fellow in an all-freshmen dorm at Stanford (Calif.) University.

The pair, who wrote an advice book for freshmen called "Virtual Reality and the College Freshman," (Alamo Trails Press) offer a few tips for parents as well.

"We occasionally had parents who hung around for a couple of weeks - and one time we had a parent who just would not go home."

But staying in a hotel for days nearby is no good, she says. If the aim is to take your child out to eat, help get things they need, help them find their way around campus, forget it. All of these can hamper students' ability to make their own friends, do their own laundry, and begin establishing their own identity separate from parents.

Parents should take care not to interfere with their child's settling in, agrees Daniel Baer, a senior at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., who co-wrote a guide to help parents and students. And they should be extrasensitive to what they blurt out while in their child's dorm room.

One example he offers: "When your daughter's roommate has a Teddy bear on her desk, don't pipe up with: "Oh, Jenny slept with a Teddy bear until just last week!"

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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