Advice for Parents

The College, You, and Your Student: Tips for a Successful Partnership

  1. Understand the different perspectives but common purposes each of us brings to discussions.
  2. Remember, your student should be in the middle of most communications, dealing directly with the College and directly with you. Avoid the unnecessary triangles.
  3. Expect your daughter or son to be responsible for keeping you and the College appropriately informed about her or his life; honor her or his adulthood and privacy while remaining connected.
  4. If after discussion with your daughter or son, you remain confused or concerned, please call the appropriate person at Carleton. That’s where this guide should help.

Supporting your Daughter or Son

Nobody understands your daughter or son as you do, and no one’s support is more important. But there are particular challenges to parenting a young adult separated from you by hundreds of miles and a couple dozen years. Our experience working with parents and students over the years has shown us that students thrive when parents:

  • Stay in touch. Students away at college do miss home and family. Letters (or e-mail), cards, and phone calls (not to mention cookies!) are treasured.
  • Show them that you still care. Sending treats for finals, asking about their lives, and expressing pride in their accomplishments may be valued even more highly now when students are away from home. Their need for your support, despite all appearances, is as great as ever.
  • Let go. They are living on their own now, developing autonomy. They need to take responsibility for their lives, to succeed and even fail on their own.
  • Support without always agreeing. Validate their feelings and perceptions, but don’t assume it’s the whole story.

A Special Transition: Parents of First-Year Students

  • Do keep your perspective by viewing your daughter’s or son’s entrance to college as just one more milestone, along with her or his first step, first word, first report card, or first request to use the car.
  • Do not rush in and “save the day” for your daughter or son. Now is the time to trust that your 18 years of influence will make a difference. The reality is that they are now on their own, so let go. Be concerned, of course, but let them work things out.
  • Do stay connected, and continue your support. Keep the lines of communication open: phone calls are quick and popular, but this may be the perfect time to breathe life into the dying art of letter writing.
  • Do not worry about your student’s performance. There will be plenty of time to discuss grades, majors, or careers after the first year.

Understanding Your Student

Most Carleton students are 18 to 22 years old, a period of life with complex and sweeping developmental changes. One theorist (Chickering) describes seven developmental tasks that challenge most college students. It may be helpful to remember that while your daughter or son is faced with some of the specific decisions listed below, she or he is also engaged with the general developmental tasks shown in italics. These tasks are never complete and are affected by one’s environment.

For example, most students arrive at Carleton feeling very competent intellectually, as they should. However, as they are surrounded by equally competent peers, and therefore may receive average grades for the first time, many experience a crisis of confidence. Parental understanding of this is very important; academic struggles may not reflect lack of effort or ability, but simply the rigorous academic life at Carleton.

Important Landmarks and Decisions: A Four-Year Developmental Checklist

First Year

  • Separating from home, perhaps for the first time
  • Living with a roommate for the first time
  • Developing competence (intellectual and social)
  • Coming home again
  • Getting involved in cocurricular life
  • Developing autonomy
  • Room draw: choosing a new roommate
Second Year
  • Exploring off-campus study opportunities
  • Managing emotions
  • Establishing identity (sexual, social, etc.)
  • Choosing a major
  • Career exploration
Third year
  • Freeing interpersonal relationships
  • Developing purpose
  • Developing integrity
  • Internship (or other career exploration)
  • Solidifying major

Fourth year

  • Clarifying graduate or career plans
  • Passing “comps,” the integrative exercise in the major
  • Commencement
Note: Each student is, of course, engaged in each of the seven italicized developmental tasks throughout all four years. Specific tasks are placed in the years in which they usually receive particular attention.