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In this issue

The Parent Program is here for you.

Parent Program Web site

Professional Staff:
Nancy Sandhu
Patti Lux-Weber

Student Interns:
Julie Bohl
Megan Buboltz
Kim Mueller

Parent Involvement: Finding a Healthy Balance

It was not that long ago when college students would place their once-weekly phone calls home from a pay phone in the hallway of their residence hall, complete with static-filled connections and competition from hallmates for premium phone time. Today, there are many options for keeping in touch with your student, including calling, e-mailing, text-messaging, or chatting through instant-messaging.

Photo of a student on her cell phone.

A recent survey of technology use among UW–Madison students found that 93 percent own a cell phone.

Whether you are a first-time Badger parent, just starting to navigate your new role, or a seasoned parent of a continuing student, there are some important questions to consider before you pull out the cell phone or answer an e-mail from your student: How much should I stay in touch? What’s the best way to stay involved? How should I communicate? What is my role when there’s a problem?

The Parent Program asked university staff and those with personal expertise—the parents who have experienced the first year—for advice. Although every family is unique, some of the tips within this article, as well as in the accompanying parent advice column, can help you maintain a comfortable pattern of interaction with your college student.

First and foremost, you’re doing the right thing by wanting to stay involved and in touch, says Wren Singer, director of UW–Madison’s Center for the First-Year Experience. UW–Madison believes that parents play an important role in helping their student make the most of his or her Wisconsin Experience.

While it’s natural to want to help your son or daughter through every bump in the road, especially during the early months on campus, keep in mind that learning to live independently is one of the most important things your student experiences in college. Rather than giving directions or picking up the phone to solve a problem, parents can be a mentor, dispensing wisdom and encouragement, while also allowing students the freedom to act on their own.

“Ask questions and stay involved,” Singer says. “Try to encourage your student’s success and put him or her in touch with those who can help, but without doing it all.”

Think of it as drawing a distinction between “intervening” in your student’s affairs and “coaching” him or her through their new experiences, advises Cal Bergman, associate director of residence life for academic initiatives in University Housing.

“A sign of intervening is when parents are doing things for their student, or doing things because they think they will get better, quicker results,” he says. “Coaching parents support their student behind the scenes to be the main actor on the stage and, most importantly, help teach their student important life skills.”

As the semester goes on, you may identify a pattern of communication that works best for you and your student. Some students and parents talk every day, which can be perfectly healthy. But for many families, Singer suggests that one to two times per week can be a good way to catch up on news without becoming overly involved. E-mail and text-messaging also offer good ways to communicate, provided that your student is comfortable with the level of contact.

Many UW–Madison students use sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, but hold off before signing up and “friending” your student. Although you might see it as an innovative way to stay in touch, your student may feel that you’ve invaded his or her digital “turf.”

Striking a balance means having enough contact to demonstrate to your student that you care, but not so much that you’re becoming intrusive, advises Rob Sepich, student relations manager for University Health Services. You may pick up subtle signals from your student if you overstep.

“When students know that you are available for support and coaching, they are likely to ask for it,” he says. “But when they feel checked up on, they are more likely to build barriers.”

Also keep in mind that not hearing from your student for several days is often a very good sign. Students who are busy getting acclimated and forging a life at the university might be less inclined to call home. Feeling in the dark can mean that your son or daughter is learning to manage on his or her own— “which is a very positive thing,” Sepich says.

“Coaching parents support their students behind the scenes and, most importantly, help teach their student important life skills.”

Parents can play an important role in helping students maintain personal health and balance by encouraging a healthy diet, exercise, sufficient sleep, spirituality and meditation, and a balance of work and play. Also, keep in mind that the university has easily accessible resources for nearly all of the common problems students face. Encourage your student to take responsibility for making connections when he or she is struggling in a class, choosing a major, enrolling for courses, experiencing health-related issues, and/or seeking research and other out-of-class learning opportunities. Even if a particular resource or opportunity is located on a different part of campus, nearly all information is available on the university’s Web site, by phone, or by e-mail.

Some students can experience deeper and more serious problems. In these situations, parents can be critical in helping to find assistance or resources for their student. If you notice in conversations or e-mail exchanges that your student is showing signs of extreme or out-of-character behavior prolonged during more than a week, ask questions and try to learn more about what specifically may be affecting him or her.

In many cases, the problem may be something simple, such as a bad grade, an intense academic period, or a relationship issue, says Singer. But, in some cases, it may be something more. You can also play an important role in detecting a mental health issue, eating disorder, substance abuse problem, or serious health problem.

Federal privacy laws prevent UW–Madison staff members from directly discussing issues related to a student with his or her parents. For advice on handling these situations, contact the Parent Program.

Lastly, don’t forget that students appreciate being kept in the loop about what’s going on at home — let them know of any new news as it is happening. Students also enjoy receiving things from their families periodically during the semester, especially during stressful periods. For ideas of unique ways you can let your student know that you care, see the “Send a Smile” article included in this newsletter.

Been There, Done That

In a recent survey, UW–Madison parents who have been through the first year offered their best advice to first-year parents. Below is a sampling of what they said.

“Be there. Students will have a lot of questions and encounter many stressful situations during their first year. They need your support and understanding. They will survive, but the process becomes more manageable with your help.”

“Send cards, notes, and care packages. Stay connected by e-mail and phone calls. Although they crave independence, they appreciate keeping in touch with family.”

“Appreciate the “young adults” they have become. Enjoy and support their independence.And learn to text-message. You will need it!”

“Even though UW–Madison is a big school, don’t feel your child will get lost in the shuffle. We have had quick helpful responses from staff at UW. So don’t be afraid to e-mail questions or concerns you may have.”

“Encourage your child to meet new people, seek out new views and new experiences. You’ll be pleased with how confident your young adult will become.”

“Be supportive, let them know you are there to help and guide them, but let them make the decisions. Guide them to seek out and ask questions on campus. Encourage them to get involved, their lives will blossom.”

“Make sure you give them enough room to breathe. It is important to be a caring and concerned parent, but make sure you are allowing them to make mistakes and fix those mistakes on their own. They are adults now, encourage them to be independent and empower them to do things on their own rather than rely on you.”

“As much as your child may be homesick at first, and want to come home, make them stay at school for a while. By this time, they will be participating in freshman activities, and starting to feel more at ease with their new ‘home.’”