Letting Go When Your Child Leaves For College

By Lee Manchester, Wagner College News Service

In the next few weeks, many American families will undergo a challenging rite of passage: sending a student off to college for the first time.

The biggest part of this challenge, two Wagner College administrators say, is letting go.

“Most children have cell phones at an early age, so parents are able to keep tabs on them,” says Sara Klein, dean of campus life at Wagner College. “Not being in constant contact can be traumatic for parents when their children first leave for college.”

Difficult as it is for parents to let go of their “babies,” it’s an important part of the process of growing up — for everyone concerned.

So, how can families facing this impending rite of passage prepare for the severing — or, at least, the stretching — of the technological umbilical cord?

“I think it’s important to have a conversation before the student leaves home to discuss what the expectations are around communication,” Klein says.

Ruta Shah-Gordon, Wagner’s assistant vice president for campus life, suggests that students and parents make arrangements to have one phone call a week, at a specific time on a specific day, when they will talk over what’s come up during the week.

“You can call at other times, just to say hi, but there’s this one time each week when the student can talk about not doing that well on a test, and being upset, and the parents can be there for them — and the students know they’re going to have that opportunity,” Shah-Gordon suggests. “And it works well for parents, too. They don’t feel like they have to be constantly checking up on their student, because they know that once a week they’ll have a conversation and cover the necessary bases.”

Letting go isn’t easy — but talking in advance about expectations, and making plans to stay in touch without hovering like helicopters over one’s student, can make things a little easier for everyone concerned.

Lee Manchester is the media relations director for Wagner College, a U.S. News & World Report Top 25 regional university located on Staten Island in New York City.

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