Pam Cytrynbaum

Pamela Cytrynbaum

Because I'm the Mom

College Students Tell Parents How to Communicate With Them

Parents of Millennials: Here's what your kids wish you knew about their lives

Posted Jun 07, 2013

College Confidential Part III: What College Students Wish Their Parents Knew and Would Do

Find out what happens when college students get real....

This is the third post in an ongoing series I'm writing in the hopes that it will start productive discussions between college students and their parents. I launched this from my perch in the trenches of college students' lives. Here, I'll offer true, unvarnished accounts of college life from the students who are living it, in their own voices. 

I am continually struck by the deep psychic split revealed in the notes and emails I keep getting from students writing advice for their parents. I can't tell you how many times they'll write all about demands for independence and space and boundaries and how pissed off they are when parents invade or want or ask or call too much. Then they write: call more, send care packages, why don't you visit, don't exclude me from family information and decisions.

What I am learning is that many of these college students yearn to feel close and connected to their families back home but they want to change the rules, to decide what form that intimacy should take. So often, parents interpret that attempt to change the rules as rejection or experience it as being pushed away. To parents of these transforming young beings, I say: Stay open. Read between the lines. Breathe through what feels like rejection and be ever vigilant about seeing/hearing/feeling the new lines of connection your kid is offering.  

'Call often. Don't pester'

For example, one student in today's post offered this: 'Advice: Call often (shows your kid you care) but don't pester.' Hmm. How is a parent supposed to figure out how many calls equals equals 'often' enough to show you care, without slipping down the slope into the dreaded pestering. What secret metrics do college students have? Looks like I'm going to have to dig deeper to get that cheat sheet!

Here are the experiences and advice offered from college students to their parents:

'I feel excluded'

I'm not getting trashed five days in a row. It's Friday and I NEED to get drunk and have fun. I think I deserve it. So stop lecturing me on alcohol and drugs. I'm NOT an alcoholic.

You're the closest friend of mine. But you're the last one to hear my love life. Do you really want to hear how your girl hooked up with a random guy in a frat party?

Please tell me what's going on at home. I know you don't want me to worry but tell me you went to the hospital if you did. Tell me if our pet is sick. Tell me if my grandparents passed away. It pisses me off that I'm the last one to know all the family matters. I feel excluded.

Yes, I'm a straight-A student. But I am capable of getting B's sometimes. Don't make me feel like I'm a total failure when B's appear on my transcript.

Advice for phone calls:  Call often. Don't Pester. We prefer FREQUENT and SHORT not OCCASIONAL and LONG

When my mom calls, and I don't answer for whatever reason. When I call her back (be it that day, one day or two days later) she ALWAYS asks me why I didn't call her back immediately or what was I doing. I don't like that. Space.

Or sometimes, if she's urgent enough, she calls my roommate. One time she e-mailed my CA (campus adviser), who I am merely acquaintances with. PLEASE don't do this. It's got to be a real emergency.

Advice: Call often (shows your kid you care) but don't pester.

Also, we prefer FREQUENT and SHORT calls not OCCASIONAL and LONG calls.

College students are always doing SOMETHING, whether it be class, work, socializing or meetings. When they do get some free time, sometimes they want to relax. Understand.

Do NOT harangue them about personal decision (eg. Major decision, future career) DON'T WANNA HEAR IT, esp if you don't agree with your kid. Chances phone will be hung up go up 200 percent.

'Duh, I'm eating'

Calling is good but not every day.

Don't ask: 'Are you eating'

Duh, I'm eating.

Don't ask: 'Do you need $$?'

If I did, I would ask for it.

Don't ask: 'Are you cold?'

If I am, what can you do about it?

This is just on my part, something I could do for my parents (so parents could ask/suggest this of their kids): Writing a daily blog. Whether it be a complete lie just so your parents still feel connected or only if you say 'I'm too tired today…'

Don't go to sleep at 9 p.m. when your kid lives in a later time zone and tries to call you at 10 p.m. because that's when their class gets out.

 '14-18 was miserable. But I consider my mother to be one of my best friends…'

So, I consider my relationship with my mother to be a very good one. We definitely had a lot of rough patches in my teen years, honestly 14-18 was on the miserable side quite often. But I consider my mother to be one of my best friends; not in the "omg girlfriends!" way. Rather, as someone whom I trust and confide in and go to for support. This has been even better in college because we don't have the under-the-same-roof proximity that allows for all the alpha female conflicts to arise.

 We talk on the phone often. I think this has to do with being Hispanic because a lot of my American friends, while they have good relationships with their parents, don't talk to them as often or about as personal things. I really like that in my relationship with my mom, we can talk openly. For example, if she thinks I'm being harsh, she'll tell me and if I need space or don't really feel like talking I can say so. This has been crucial because when I was younger I think she thought I would push her away because "I didn't like her" or something, when really I just needed to establish my life as its own separate entity.

I think this is an issue that a lot of parents have trouble confronting when their kids go to college. We still love them but it's a time in our lives where everything we take in is telling us to grow up, stand on our own and establish an identity. This means in many ways redefining our relationships with people and our roles in each other's lives. I don't know; maybe this is just me and my peers haven't thought of it this way. But I know that between my mother and I one of the biggest obstacles was transitioning out of our roles of mother raising daughter to mother and daughter, both adults still needing each other in our lives but under slightly changed roles.

Hope this helps!

 It certainly does. 

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