Growing Independence

It can be challenging to be the parent, grandparent or guardian of a college-bound student. On the one hand, you want to encourage your student's independence, that solo flight that you have both anticipated for so long, but on the other hand, you want to help him or her avoid the pitfalls you know are waiting for them. Finding the balance between these two viewpoints takes time and practice. So, as your student is preparing to leave home and conquer the world, here are some tips to help you strengthen their flight skills:

1. Encourage your student to get up and at 'em! We all like a little extra sleep now and then, but wasting daylight hours is a dangerous habit. As sure as night follows day, your student will eventually draw that dreaded 8 a.m. class and the professor will expect regular attendance. Your student is already accustomed to rising by 6:30 or 7, and that schedule should serve them fine for college. Holding to that schedule at least three days a week will reduce the shock when they begin classes in August.

2. Instruct your student in Independent Living 101 (laundry, communication, sharing…) This summer is a great time for your student to: 

  • Get out of bed without parental support (see Tip #1)
  • Make friends with your washer and dryer. This might also be a good time to discuss the beauty of recycling (gently worn) clothes.
  • Preview what it will be like to share living space. Tips for this include 'confining' themselves to half their present room and timing their showers. A little awareness goes a long way.
  • Purposefully engage your student in conversation. Your student will not stop Facebook or Twitter when they arrive at Hendrix, but there will be circumstances (inside and outside the classroom) when they'll need to communicate effectively the old-fashioned way: face to face.

3. Later this summer ask your student if they've constructed a first-year course list. Hendrix students meet with their advisors during Orientation week (the week before classes begin), and that session will be much more productive if your student arrives prepared with a first choice list of classes for fall and spring and then a fallback list of potential classes for their first year. They will receive instructions on how to choose classes in their Campus Web checklist. Also, encourage your student to put academic studies FIRST on their priority list! That is sometimes harder than you think, especially now that he or she does not have the structure of being in school all-day every-day and in your home environment as in a high school setting. All academic questions and concerns that your student has should be taken without hesitation or delay to his or her academic advisor, course professor, or Julie Brown or Charnley Conway in Advising and Academic Success. To succeed at Hendrix, your student must be proactive about his or her academic success. There are many mentors here to assist, but the initiative must come from your student. He or She is in charge now!

4. Stay out of their e-mail. Your student should be a frequent/daily flier in her or his Hendrix e-mail account, and you can ask them for periodic reports of what they're receiving via Hendrix e-mail. However, that's as close as you should get to their e-mail account. I have known students and parents who 'shared' access to the student's personal e-mail account. This only serves to reduce your student's sense of responsibility. The entire campus – administration, faculty, staff and students – communicates via e-mail and we'll expect your student to join that club.

    5. Review challenges, discuss strategies (grades, social, etc.) An old song by Ringo Starr said, 'It Don't Come Easy,' and that can certainly be true of the transition to college. But the best news is that your student is surrounded by a plethora of resources to help them find their feet and get off to a good start. Advising and Academic Success is just what it sounds like: a place where students can receive guidance and instruction on making the most of their classes. Housed on the second floor of the Student Life & Technology Center (SLTC), Julie Brown and Charnley Conway look forward to meeting your student and introducing them to the variety of services available through their office. If your student is unsure how to make a social connection at Hendrix, Student Activities can point them in many directions. This office is located on the first floor of the SLTC, and your student will get their first Student Activities experience via their Orientation Trip.

    6. Assign research for your student – who's in charge of their residence hall, where is the nurse, what are the library hours, where is the closest computer lab, when is the dining hall open (and closed!). This capacity for self-discovery (and familiarity with the Hendrix website) will serve them well during their entire college career. Feel free to use the above five questions or create your own! Here are the links pertinent to my list:

    7. Ask about their roommate. This is a pivotal relationship for them as they begin school, and it is natural and valuable for you to inquire about the nature of their interaction. They do not have to be best friends with their roommate, but this is a terrific opportunity to gauge how well your student is learning to respectfully coexist with others. If there are major problems, encourage your student to speak to his or her Resident Assistant. This will reinforce problem-solving via resources. 

    8. Don't dodge the hard stuff. Have a frank discussion with your student about finances, homesickness, finding places to connect, or other topics that are pertinent to your particular circumstances. Career Services is an important touchstone for students considering working while in school. Health Services can be a terrific resource for your student for physiological and emotional support, and the staff at the Miller Center would be happy to talk with your student about purpose and direction as they find their way at Hendrix.

    9. Talk with your student about preferred communication parameters (how often do they want to talk, is texting better, what about Skype or Face Time?). It's a toss-up to determine who has the toughest time with this transition, students or families. Either way, it's important for the lines of communication to remain open, and equally important for your student to assume the lead in this situation. If you don't know, Skype is a terrific system whereby you can see and talk with your student at the same time. Others may prefer the more private communication offered through texting. You may also want to have a phone number for your student's Resident Assistant, and you might choose to give your number to your student's roommate. As a general rule, hold back as much as you can, but also do not hesitate to contact Academic Success (501) 450-1204) or Student Affairs (501) 450-1222) if you have concerns about your student's transition to Hendrix that you sense are serious enough to require notifying a Hendrix staff person. You know your student best and we want to hear from you in these cases. Work for the balance between supporting your student and dominating decisions in these new circumstances.

    10. Model optimism and self-reliance. Adults know that while the first year of college can be difficult, it is completely survivable. Your student possesses the intellect and resources necessary to have a successful first year. At every appropriate juncture, declare your faith in your student, and your readiness to guide them when they wish. You've both just joined a big club, and we're happy to help you however we can.