UB Parent-Program Coordinator Offers Advice to Parents of Soon-to-Be College Students

By Mara McGinnis

Release Date: July 9, 1999

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Toby Shapiro, University at Buffalo parent-program coordinator, has one major piece of advice for parents of this fall's crop of new college students: "Always keep the lines of communication open."

Shapiro says it is important to let your freshman know that it's okay to share his or her successes and his or her disappointments with you and that you will be supportive and understanding, regardless of the situation. Unfortunately, students often do not tell their parents about problems until they are in a crisis situation.

Parents of students entering college, she adds, should be aware that the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) -- a federal regulation written in 1974 and amended in 1975 -- says that only students have access to their university records, magnifying the importance of keeping communication lines open. In accordance with FERPA, parents are not notified of students' grades.

"I receive a number calls each year from parents who believe that because they are paying the bills, they have a 'right to know,' and I explain to them that it is a federal law and we have to adhere to it," says Shapiro. "It is difficult for parents to understand because this law is a complete reversal of the policy in grades K through 12, during which parents have complete access to their children's records."

Shapiro offers this additional expert advice to parents:

• Discuss the student having a credit card before the student enters college and periodically thereafter. "It's frightening to see how easily full-time students, the vast majority of whom have little or no income, can obtain credit in their own names without their parents' knowledge," says Shapiro. Students think they'll only use the credit card for emergencies or for necessary purchases; however, before they realize it, they have bought things they can't afford, have reached their limit and are heavily in debt.

• Offer guidance to your son or daughter, but let him or her make his or her own decisions. Students struggle with three basic issues in college: independence, identity and interpersonal relations. "Students will 'try-on' different personalities that may or may not 'fit,'" says Shapiro, which may result in a student doing such things as getting a drastically different haircut, dying his or her hair or having a body part pierced. Be there as a parent, but also let go, to allow for the student's continuing development. They may not always be the same options you would choose, and your son or daughter may make some mistakes along the way, but decision-making is vital to the growth process.

• Keep students in the "family loop." Students need and want to remain in the "family loop," whether they are far away from home or not, according to Shapiro. If family problems develop, it can be very upsetting to a student if he or she isn't told about what is going on at home. However, Shapiro emphasizes that what, when and how to tell your son or daughter about a problem at home depends on the family and the issue. In some cases, she says, it may be preferable to wait to tell your son or daughter something. For example, if a family member becomes seriously ill during final-exam week, it may be best to wait a few days to tell your son or daughter.

Shapiro says parents can anticipate the following common issues and/or problems to arise during students' first-year of college:

• August/September: Initial adjustment to the college or university academic environment, values clarification, social-life adjustments, stress of long-distance relationships, financial adjustments, homesickness and roommate conflicts.

• October: Academic stress, problems with study skills, using campus resources, concern about not being part of a group and identity issues.

• November: Academic pressure, disenchantment with school, concern about which courses to take the following semester, roommate problems if conflicts are left unaddressed and illnesses like the common cold or flu due to change in weather and increased demands on students' time.

• December: Anxiety about final exams and papers, holiday woes from not having enough money or time to shop for family and friends, mixed feelings about leaving new friends and being reacquainted with old friends at home and readjusting to family life.

• January: Boredom, re-emergence of homesickness as students again leaves the security of home, anxiety about second-semester academic performance if students did not do well the first semester and trouble getting back "into the groove."

• February: "Cabin Fever" and relationship anxieties as students begin to strengthen or weaken ties with others.

• March: Academic stress from mid-term exams, questions about where to live and who to live with the following year, concern about what to do and where to go for spring break, especially if students do not have money to go anywhere other than home.

• April: Worry over choosing a major, questioning choice of major, more disenchantment with college life as stress levels increase (Shapiro adds that the dining halls often are a target for disenchantment).

• May: Academic pressure leading to increased coffee consumption, changes in eating and sleeping habits and a lower tolerance of family, friends and roommate(s); anxiety about saying good-bye to new friends and significant others, and concern about summer employment and/or summer classes.

More advice and helpful resources for parents of college students can be found on the UB Parent Web Site at http://www.activities.buffalo.edu/parent/index.html.