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Volume 47, Number 4


Helping your child adjust to college life

Trading Spaces: Residence hall renovations give students more of what they want

Developing Independence: Residence halls offer students a place to learn the skills of living on their own

Safety on campus: Stay alert, lock up, and take advantage of University resources

Von Stange new director of Residence Services

Students can take the cake

Parent Times Briefs

Residence Halls Important Dates

University Calendar


The University of Iowa

Helping your child adjust to campus life

Staying in touch without being too intrusive is just one of the challenges for parents of new college students.


You may not think so now, but you’ll survive it.

You’re dreading the day that you leave your child at college, and you may even manage to get through it without tears. But once you leave them standing beside their residence hall, once their waving figure disappears from your rearview mirror, you’ll still want to know how they’re doing. You won’t see them every day, but you still want to stay in touch. What can parents do to help their first-year students adjust to life at The University of Iowa?

“It’s a big transition—leaving home, starting classes, the transition to adulthood,” says Sam Cochran, the director of University Counseling Service. “There will be plenty of challenges for your student to surmount, and they need support to do that.”

Things your child should know before coming to The University of Iowa

1. How to write a check and balance a checkbook.

2. How to use a credit card wisely and how to evaluate the myriad offers they’ll receive once they’re at school. (The UI Women’s Resource and Action Center sponsors a Paper or Plastic program that can assist male and female students with credit issues and debt management.)

3. How to budget. If you give your student money, be clear about what it’s supposed to cover.

4. How to do laundry. Teach them to separate their darks and whites so they’ll avoid that first-wash-of-the-semester “pink glow.”

5. The importance of personal hygiene. Remind them that they’ll be buying their own deodorant and shampoo (and their friends will like them better if they do so regularly). Remind them to change their sheets more than once per semester.

6. Lock their doors. Students want to be trusting of their friends, but it’s important to always lock rooms, and to not let nonresidents into their residence halls after hours.

7. How to be assertive in communicating. Your student will run into situations where they’ll feel pressure—a group of students is going to the bars, or a roommate is staying up late and listening to loud music. Help them think about their choices (in the case of pressure to drink) and how to be assertive in communicating those choices.

8. How to be responsible consumers of their education. Encourage them to ask for academic and emotional support—there are lots of people at the University who want to provide assistance and numerous services available to help students, including sessions on study skills and library use, meetings with academic advisers, and visits with professors during office hours.

The phone is the natural thing to think of—you want to talk to your son or daughter, to hear their voice and know that when they tell you “I’m fine,” they sound like they really mean it. But Cochran suggests thinking carefully before you call.

“You don’t want to be too intrusive, so I’d lean toward hanging back a bit,” Cochran says. “This transition is a big step to independence and adulthood, and as parents we don’t want to do anything to undermine that.”

This is not to say that you shouldn’t have contact with your son or daughter. One of the most helpful things is to share your expectations for communication before your son or daughter leaves home.

“Set some ground rules about your expectations for contact,” Cochran says. “It’s often easier for them to call you, than for you to find busy students in their rooms.”

Kate Fitzgerald, assistant director for Residence Life, echoes that thought.

“Let them know ‘I would like to hear from you once a week. Call me on Sunday night, or if you can’t call me on Sunday, call me on Saturday to tell me why you can’t call me on Sunday,’ ” Fitzgerald says. “Parents worry, and having a plan to hear that familiar voice once a week helps.”

A phone call once a week works for many families, but Cochran stresses that each situation, each student, each parent-child relationship is different, and it’s okay to work out a plan that fits your family’s individual needs.

E-mail is another form of communication that works well for many families.

“Student hours are totally different—they’re not always going to be in their rooms between 5 and 10 p.m., when you’re home from work and want to talk to them,” Fitzgerald says “Students will communicate with you by e-mail.”

E-mail also is less intrusive. Your student can answer your queries when it’s convenient for them, even when they aren’t in their rooms. Many students check their e-mail between classes at stations provided by the Parents Association at the Iowa Memorial Union, or from other locations on campus. Instant messaging is another popular way to stay in touch.

But what if you hear from your daughter often? Should you worry if your son calls home a lot?

“That’s fine,” Cochran says. “Be open to your student’s need to reconnect, even if it sometimes feels like too much. Typically there’s a kind of give-and-take, as students try out their independence and then need to refuel emotionally. They may initiate phone calls home to reconnect with the safety and support they’ve felt there. Don’t discourage this—it’s an element of providing them with support.”

Cochran says the same is true of visits home. And while Fitzgerald notes that students who stay on campus over the weekend tend to meet people more easily, because there’s less studying and more social time, she thinks leaving campus periodically is healthy.

“When you’re in the residence halls and your focus is academics and maybe a job and you have a big to-do list and a lot of stress, it’s good to get away and reenergize,” she says.

While contact with home and high school friends is healthy, parents should note some red flags, to see if reconnecting with home is undermining their student’s progress.

“I’d watch for things like not completing assignments or falling behind in school work,” Cochran says. “Or if students seem to have a negative spin on the entire experience—‘I don’t like my classes, my professors are unfair, I hate my roommate’—or if they feel sad at the prospect of returning to the residence hall and their friends here. These could be warning signs.”

Residence hall staff members learn to watch for warning signs. Beginning with the first floor meeting and Week of Welcome events and throughout the semester, resident assistants (RAs) encourage students to take part in activities designed to help them get to know the students in their residence hall and to learn about the resources and special-interest groups on campus.

“If a student is homesick, then an RA is trained to help them make a connection, either in the residence hall or through one of the hundreds of activity groups on campus,” Fitzgerald says. “And RAs share strategies for communicating with roommates about ‘room rules.’ If your student calls home and complains about a roommate problem, encourage them to seek out their RA, who can help them mediate conflicts. If the problem continues, area coordinators also can be consulted.”

If a student is having an especially difficult time adjusting to campus life, RAs know to refer a student to University Counseling Service. That’s also appropriate for parents to do, if they’re sensing that their child needs some additional help.

“If you’re concerned about your student’s adjustment—you’re getting a lot of tearful phone calls or a student talks about wanting to quit and come home for example, parents can suggest that students visit University Counseling Service (UCS),” Cochran says. “You can ask your student ‘Would you at least go once and get a second opinion on how your adjustment is coming?’ There are no charges for UCS services and our counselors deal with these issues all the time. Often an initial visit will help your son or daughter learn about the kinds of support available at UCS and elsewhere on campus.”

Parents also can call and talk with residence hall or UCS staff if they’re concerned. While the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) stipulates that staff may not share confidential information, including whether a student is seeing a counselor, parents should feel free to call and ask whether a particular pattern of behavior seems typical of the college adjustment process or whether it’s something more.

For most students, the adjustment to independence and college life may be circuitous, but it will eventually occur, and parental support can go a long way toward smoothing the way. And although technology—e-mail, instant messaging, and cell phones—are ways to let your child know you’re thinking of them, there’s another, time-tested technique that still works when you want to say “I’m thinking of you.”

“If you stand by the mailboxes and watch the facial expressions of those who get something, you get a clear idea of what it means to students,” Fitzgerald says. “If parents want to make their kids’ day, send the occasional card or package—a box of homemade cookies that they can share with their floor or just a note that lets them know you’re thinking of them. Students may love technology, but they get very excited by U.S. mail.”

By Linzee Kull McCray





Published by University Relations Publications. Copyright The University of Iowa 2003. All rights reserved.

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