Your child has grown and is off to college. What does this mean for parents? How does parenting change as adolescents begin to mature to young adults? That is a question with which many parents struggle. The young person has moved out or is still living at home, but now views himself or herself as an adult who is making independent decisions. This raises issues, particularly when the young person continues to reside at home. The rules may not have changed that much to accommodate the desires of the increasing independent needs. So what does this mean for the parent and young person?
Researchers have asked the same questions. Although, technically, college-aged students are considered adults, brain development suggests otherwise. The human brain continues to consolidate and make connections well into the mid-20s. Due to the continued growth, poor decision making, impulsivity, and time management deficits are seen during this time of life. This has led researchers to pose an expanded adolescent age range to include the college aged population. With this in mind, how can parents provide the necessary scaffolding and supports while encourage independence and positive decision making?
Several themes were noted in the research. As young people begin to venture out into the new world ahead, their attitudes change and a new level of confidence in their abilities may emerge. Research has shown that incoming freshman enter with elevated confidence in their abilities to complete their degree, yet not as many achieve the desired end of graduation (Strage and Brandt, 1999). In high school, students were given reminders and more supports. They have entered college and are now expected to complete their assignments within the time frame, utilize their time appropriately, and attend class as scheduled. This is done solely by them. For this reason, students may not understand the responsibilities that face them and the challenges therein.
Therefore, some students have higher expectations for themselves than is reasonable or achievable. This then creates a sense of self-entitlement, “good grades should not be hard to come by and that teachers should give them a “break”” (Greenberg, Lessard, Chen, and Farruggia, 2008, p.1201). Students display “poor work ethic and low degree of concern for how their behavior impacts others” (Greenberg, et al, 2008, p.1194). Researchers have linked social comparison with “unrealistically high and unstable self-esteem” (Greenberg, et al, 2008, p.1194). Students may have turned to school achievement in high school as a way to cope with high expectations and comparisons, thereby creating greater anxiety. This reduces students’ ability to experience the intrinsic reward of learning and developing mastery of tasks as they are focused on pleasing authority or gaining the reward. Additionally, as students are confronted with the discrepancy between what they think themselves to be and what their grades reflect increased anger and negative emotional experiences surface (Greenberg, et al, 2008). So, as parents, what can be done?
Offering a supportive and encouraging environment is recommended. Coming alongside the student and offering support via assisting with time management, recommending using the campus resources, or offering a listening ear may ease the anxiety and allow for the student to engage in active problem solving without the concern of disappointment and comparison.
Research has also shown positive outcomes with parents who are warm, consistent, and accepting. This does not mean that parents should expect less than their young people are capable of producing. It does suggest encouraging a balance of studying and social interactions, as well as expecting young people to put forth their best effort to achieve. Research showed that “the more autonomy, demands, and supports parents provided,” students displayed greater confidence, dedication, and positive expectations towards their education and professors (Strage and Brandt, 1999, p. 154). By requiring students to become more responsible and natural consequences to motivate, the pressure to please may lessen as they become more aware of the rewards of independence and self-assuredness. However, research indicated that intrinsic motivation continues to lag behind as students are focused on the external reward of the grade.
In line with socialization, encouraging “frequent and informal contact” with their professors and other students enhances intellectual and social engagement; thereby creating more opportunity for cognitive and personal growth (Strage and Brandt, 1999). Further, maintaining open communication allows parents to remain connected and influence the relationships established. As college-aged students become more involved and mature, the relationships developed in academic arena grow in importance and influence.
In conclusion, parents remain in contact with your student, but allow for your student to venture out and explore the new world. Be available for support and encouraging of new opportunities. Continue to discuss important topics and be a sounding board for your student. This is a crucial time and students will undergo numerous changes as they mature and learn more about themselves and their interest. Lastly, parents, be confident in the parenting that was done throughout the young person’s life. Goals, aspirations, and values have been laid and now young people are adding layers and further developing their belief structure. This is a new and adventurous time for both you and your student, enjoy it!
Greenberg, E., Lessard, J., Chen, C., & Farruggia, S.P. (2008). Self-entitled college students:
Contributions of personality, parenting, and motivational factors. Journal of Youth Adolescence, 37, 1193-1294.
Strage, A. & Brandt, T.S. (1999). Authoritative parenting and college students’ academic
adjustment and success. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91, 146-156.