5 Rules for… Parents
Rule No. 1 – Make Them Pay for Something
Regardless of where you fall on the vast spectrum of financial means, your son or daughter ought to have some “skin in the game.” I’ve observed that students who assume some financial responsibility for their education – anything from taking on partial loan obligations to paying for books and clothes – generally perform better than those who don’t.
Rule No. 2 – Don’t Call First
Here’s a simple test: After you drop your child off for new student orientation, have your next phone conversation be initiated by him or her. Resist the urge to call before you even get out of the dormitory parking lot. The mother of a Syracuse student told me about the Pursuer-Distancer Dynamic: “When I pursued him with phone calls and emails, he resisted. Then when I stopped pursuing, he started calling me.” She further observed, “I get a kick out of it when he calls and asks, “Why haven’t you called me lately?’”
Rule No. 3 – Step Aside
This rule calls upon you, the parent, to step aside and allow new mentors to enter your child’s life. (Consider the possibility that your highly involved role may have even prevented your child from developing the ability to connect with mentors.) College offers a wealth of dynamic people who can make a huge difference in your child’s life. Step aside and let it happen.
Rule No. 4 – Is This My Issue?
This rule is actually a mantra that I ask parents to internalize when they are engaged in communications with their college child. Should your child call complaining about his/her roommate, the food, the course load, a poor exam grade, or an overly demanding professor, ask yourself, “Is this my issue?” Try to have your go-to answer be “No.”
Rule No. 5 – Get Curious
Any and all college websites tout the promise of graduating life-long learners. And when you get right down to it, isn’t that the point? While I don’t believe he had children, there is a quote attributed to author James Baldwin that I have used many times when working with families: “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they never fail to imitate them.” If you, mom or dad, commit to being a life-long learner, you will be sending a powerful message to your child. Even if he/she jokes about it or scoffs at it, they are paying attention all the time, and that may be one of the greatest legacies you can give them.
Onward. Malcolm Gauld