When you dropped your daughter off at college, you both tearily promised to talk every day. Now it’s two weeks later, and you’ve gotten a total of three texts from her. And the third one was just to ask if you remembered to mail her winter coat.
Is this normal? How often are parents supposed to check in with their college students? And what can you do to encourage your son or daughter to stay in touch? Here are our best tips for anxious parents.
1. Remember that silence isn’t necessarily bad.
Worrying is what parents do best. When a week goes by with no contact, a parent assumes their child is sad, stressed or depressed at college. Chances are, your child is doing just fine. Consider the alternative — what if your daughter were texting you hourly about how she hates her roommate and is failing PoliSci?
2. Be honest about your feelings — without emotional blackmail.
Your college-aged child isn’t spending a lot of time thinking about how you’re dealing with an empty nest. They’re making new friends, studying hard (you hope), going out for late-night wings and playing Quidditch on the quad. If you’re feeling anxious about your student’s wellbeing, it’s okay to talk about those feelings. Say something like, “I know you’re living your life, and I don’t want to get in the way. But it really puts my mind at ease when I can hear your voice once a week and know that you’re doing okay.
Resist the urge to accuse or guilt-trip. “It’s fine to say, ‘We’re having your favorite dinner and thinking about you. Hope you’re having a good day,’ but avoid the heavy-handed, ‘We’re making your favorite dinner, if only you could be here with us,’” Organized31 suggests.
3. Let your college student decide how often you should talk.
College experts advise relinquishing control and letting your student initiate communication, whether that takes the form of nightly texts or occasional calls. This is hard to do, but it allows the parent to stop agonizing over why their student never calls, and simply accept each communication as it comes. Mother and college professor Pamela Cytrynbaum offers this good advice: “Breathe through what feels like rejection and be ever vigilant about seeing/hearing/feeling the new lines of connection your kid is offering.”
4. Negotiate a scheduled check-in.
What if your student never reaches out, except when they need something from you? Then it’s time to set clear expectations for some kind of weekly communication, like a Skype session on Sunday evenings.
5. Embrace one-sided communication with your college student.
It’s frustrating to send a heartfelt message to your child at college and get two emoji back. Or nothing. But take comfort in the fact that your student is listening, even if he’s not responding. Can you free him — and yourself — from the expectation of a response? Why not send old-fashioned care packages, or even postcards? That way your student knows he’s loved, without the obligation of a text/call/chat.
6. Meet your college student where they are.
Maybe your son thinks Facebook is for the olds. Instead of badgering him to update his status, follow him on Instagram instead. Or message him on Snapchat. Or set up Slack for the whole family. Focus your efforts on the platform that works best for him — but don’t be the stalkerish parent who immediately likes every update.
7. Just listen. Don’t solve.
One reason your college student might not be returning your calls? You dominate the conversation. If your child complains about an exam he flunked, do you unleash your parental rage on the professor? Or if she’s relegated to the bench during lacrosse games, do you offer to personally contact her coach? That’s straight-up helicopter parenting, and it’s only damaging your student’s ability to solve his or her own problems. One recent study found that “students with ‘hovering’ or ‘helicopter’ parents are more likely to be medicated for anxiety and/or depression,” author Julie Lythcott-Haims writes.1
Break the cycle. When your college student tells you about a dilemma, ask what she thinks she could do about it. If she sounds overwhelmed, ask, “Can you think of a way that I can help?” Step in only when invited, or when your child’s wellbeing is at stake.
If you have reason to believe your child’s struggling with anxiety or depression, encourage him or her to seek help from a mental-health professional. Nearly one in six students had been treated for or diagnosed with anxiety in the previous 12 months, one study found.2 If your child must withdraw from school mid-term due to a diagnosed mental health condition, tuition insurance can help reimburse lost tuition expenses. Learn more about what Allianz Tuition Insurance covers.