The transition to college can be as tough for parents as it is for students. Guidance for parents of new college students can be tough to find, and may not come naturally to many people.
So to help parents experiencing a student heading off to college, Washington State University initiated a parent workshop called Letting Go and Staying Connected. The workshop is the final parent event during each Alive! orientation session.
Alive! is a two and a half day program designed to prepare new WSU students and parents for the start of classes in the fall. The12 Alive! sessions in 2015 will be held throughout June and July.
The Letting Go workshop started in 2012, when Alive! organizers realized that the parent sessions during the orientations were full of information, like safety in residence halls or financial aid. But it lacked help relevant to the transition in parenting roles when students go to college.
“Parenting my 12-year-old is pretty easy, really,” said Matthew Bumpus, an associate professor in the WSU Department of Human Development. “There are routines and norms. He does his homework, we play catch, etc. But the norms and routines for parenting a college student are much less clear.”
“When students become emerging adults, hopefully they’re clarifying their values that they’ll have throughout their lives,” said Bumpus, who runs the workshop along with graduate students in Prevention Science. “So we talk to parents about how to walk alongside their kids to help them think about their priorities. It’s not about giving directions as much anymore.”
The workshop helps parents see the importance of talking with their kids about what values are most important to them, and then using that information throughout the college experience. But without being pushy.
“In the session, we talk about having conversations with your student about their priorities and values, and then using that information to guide future conversations while they are at WSU,”” Bumpus said. “The summer before college can be a great time for parents to set the stage and consider what it means to be involved in a way that allows their student to flourish.”
“The goal is for parents not to criticize their students, but if students start to get off-track, then parents can say something like, ‘That doesn’t sound like who you said you want to be,’” he said.
Bumpus and colleagues in the human development department have been conducting follow-up studies of parents to assess how they can fine-tune the workshop.
One parent in the study described the most important thing she could express to her student: “Love, most of all – just being there for him – and listening mostly, rather than giving him advice or telling him what he needs to do.”
Another answered the survey by saying: “We’ve talked openly about alcohol, sex, schoolwork, his future. Nothing is off the table when approached from the position of a non-judgmental advisor.”
The survey results show an overwhelmingly positive response from participants.
The workshop engages parents with the use of interactive technology. Last year, cell phone survey software allowed parents to anonymously answer questions in real time, with the results appearing on a screen immediately.
This summer, the workshop will use the interactive software even more.
“We want to illustrate that there’s no single right way to navigate this transition,” Bumpus said. “One goal of our workshop is to show parents that they aren’t the only ones with questions and concerns. Other parents are thinking the same things.”
Bumpus hopes the workshop spurs conversations quickly.
“We’ve heard from parents that they used the drive home from orientation to talk with their students about these topics,” he said. “The transition to college is really complicated for families, and we want to help them start positive conversations.”