Sending a kid to college in fall, helicopter parent? Now’s the time to land and let your kid take off

Incoming freshman Maxwell Gaddy from Midland gets help from his father Chris and sister Jenna, 16, moving into Duran Residence Hall Friday morning at the University of Texas at Austin.

Southern Methodist University’s study out this week of the effect that helicopter parenting had on college age girls had me thinking about the number of times I’ve talked to college professors about the new generation of students they are seeing.

They tell me stories of parents calling them to argue over their child’s grades, or of parents who drive kids home every weekend or come to campus to do their laundry and fill their fridges with home-cooked meals every weekend. DON’T BE THAT PARENT.

St. Edward’s University psychology professor Sara Villanueva, who wrote the book The Angst of Adolescence: How to Parent Your Teen (and Live to Laugh About It)” is one of those professors who gets calls from parents. The end of high school is all about letting them make their mistakes and live with the consequences.

“You have to let them fall flat on their faces,” she says. She gives the example of the child who won’t tie their shoes. “If you are there to catch them every time, how are they going to know you have to tie your shoes?”

As many parents are getting ready to send off a new crop of college students in the next six months, Margo Ewing Woodacre, who wrote the  book, “I’ll Miss You Too: The Off-to-College Guide for Parents and Students” tells us:  “It’s a tough thing, to really let go and trust.”

Here are some key things to hammer out now before fall:

How will they pay for things? If they are not already on a separate bank account, get them on one now and have them start managing their funds. Will they need to work? How much money will they need to make? How much money will you give to them? What will happen if they need more money or overdraw their bank account? Will they have a credit card, and what will it be used for?

Do they know how to do laundry, make a bed and feed themselves? Seriously, check on this. If they’ve never run a washing machine, teach them. If they don’t know how to cook some basics, help them learn. Teach them about basic cleanliness and then let go. You’ve done your best.

What about the car? First, have you taught them how to drive? A lot of parents are skipping that step, but it’s an important one to foster independence. Read our guide on how to get your teenager licensed. If they already know how to drive, do they know how often it needs to be tuned up or how to change a tire or whom to call in a roadside emergency?

How will you communicate? Do you expect daily phone calls or texts or do they just need to check in once a week, like we did when we went to school? You want to be in touch, but you also want to be wary of them not connecting with friends at school because they are always calling mom. If you’ve been that helicopter parent (and you know you are) that has known about every test and every social dilemma for the last 18 years, it’s time to get out of their day-to-day business.

What are the expectations about grades? What will happen if they fail a class? What grade-point average do they expect to have compared with what you’re expecting? How will they stay organized and on top of their assignments? Where can they go if they need academic help?

Talk about the bad things that can happen. Don’t lecture, but help them form a plan for when they’ve been drinking too much. Talk about the importance of safety in numbers and having friends who look out for you.

When will they come home and when will you visit? If you have a kid who is staying close to home, you need to set these parameters now. You don’t want the kid who comes home every weekend and doesn’t engage in college life. If your kid is prone to that, perhaps have a once-a-week or once-every-other-week dinner with him and invite him to bring his friends. You’ll make sure your child is connecting with people at college, but you won’t entirely cut him off, either.

What happens when they get sick? Does your child know where to go on campus for medical attention? Does your child know what to do about insurance and have his insurance card? Do they know how to get their medications?

What do they need to do before they get to school? Create a checklist of all the items they need to buy, all the arrangements that need to be made. Make them responsible for getting those things done.

How much time do you expect to be with them this summer? They want to be with their friends; you want to be with them. Make sure everyone is on the same page.

What are the rules when they come home? Is there still a curfew, which might seem silly after three months of no curfew? Can they just agree to let you know their plans and timing? When do you expect to see them? You’ve got to get on their calendar before they come home.

What will you do with yourself? This is an excellent time to find a new hobby, take up volunteer work or learn a new skill. You’ve earned a little you time.

And if you are sending a kid off to college in the fall, consider getting professor Amy Bremen’s book “Say This, Not That to Your Professor, ” to help them understand how to be an advocate for themselves in the classroom. 


Author: Nicole Villalpando

Nicole Villalpando writes about families in the Raising Austin blog and the Raising Austin column on Saturdays. She also offers a weekly and monthly family calendar at She tweets at @raisingaustin.

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