Dealing With the Freshman Down the Hall


If you don’t have extra space, consider rearranging or redecorating the student’s room or a portion of the room. “Simple things like the new comforter set or a little refrigerator, to make it feel like their room is becoming a dorm room,” said Christina Loring, the director of Parent and Family Programs at Boston University. She also suggested celebrating the milestone. “Buy that sweatshirt and that bumper sticker,” she said.

Try to give your children at least some of the independence they would have had if they’d gone away. Cathy Jellenik, an associate professor of French at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., is giving over her guest bedroom — which has a kitchenette and a separate entrance — to her son Nathaniel, 18, who will start his first year at Hendrix from home.

She and her husband would have paid for his food if he’d moved to campus, she said, so they are giving him a stipend and leaving him in charge of his own grocery deliveries — and doing his own laundry at the Laundromat down the street. And although Dr. Jellenik said she would be thrilled to see her son for dinner every night, in keeping with the “he’s away at college” mind-set, he has to call or text first, and knock before he comes in the house.

“He said, ‘Eww, what are you and Dad going to be doing?’” Dr. Jellenik said. “And I said, ‘I don’t know, maybe we’re going to be having a candlelit dinner.’” Nathaniel wanted to set up in his new space immediately, but Dr. Jellenik is trying to preserve what few first-year rituals she can. He will move in Monday, what would have been Hendrix’s move-in day.

If your student is joining you for dinner every night — which may make the most sense, financially — it isn’t license to grill your son or daughter about friends and classes all the time. Consider how many times a week you might talk or text with your student on the phone from the dorms, Dr. Allen said, and then act accordingly. If it is once a week, say, deem Thursday dinner as check-in night. “That’s when parents can ask their young adult what they’re reading in English literature, and the young adults can throw them some crumbs,” Dr. Allen said.

It is likely you will know if your child is sleeping through class or turning in papers late, but before you step in, pause and ask yourself whether this is information you would have if your student were in the dorms. If it isn’t, back off unless it threatens their health or safety. Marjorie Savage, author of “You’re on Your Own (but I’m Here if You Need Me),” a book on parenting college students, said: “They’re supposed to be developing responsibility and managing their own time. They need to be left to deal with the consequences of their actions.”

If your student wants your help with schoolwork, such as an essay, first pointtoward relevant campus resources, many of which are now online. “You can say, ‘I’d love to, but I think you have somebody better equipped to do that in the writing center, and this is a good opportunity for you to connect with them,’” Dr. Keup said. This may actually help ensure students’ long-term college success: Research suggests that the building of connections and community — academic community, not just friends — in the first year is essential to finishing a degree.


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