Written by M.A. Ricci, Parent and Family Association Member, 2023
As a parent/guardian you are always your child’s first and greatest teacher. When they are little, you are teaching them everything. As they get older, they have other teachers and you aren’t needed as much.
They’re now in college at Clarkson, and life for both of you is different. You may not hear from them as often as you would like (even as a day student!), and that’s okay. They are making friends, trying out new activities, learning to cohabitate with a roommate (possibly for the first time in their lives) and oh yes, studying. If they are a daily texter/talker and continue that pattern, great! If they’re not, a lot of parents ask their student for “proof of life”, be it just an emoji of how their week is going, or a Snapchat every once in a while. Your family could agree to speak at least once a week on a specified evening, whether via video call or just the plain old phone. The best thing you can do is always be happy to hear from them, and never judge or make them feel guilty. If you do the opposite, they may not be so eager to call you.
You want to respect their space, but how much space do you give? Suggest a communication plan if you don’t have one in place already. It takes about a month for kids to really get settled at school. Limited communication in that time can actually help some of them, because it can lessen the homesickness. Send encouraging texts their first two weeks: “have a great day today”, “take advantage of where you are and try something different today”, “have an awesome day and say hi to someone you don’t know”. It’s okay if they’re not texting you back right away. Some kids, when they leave the nest, want to embrace that early stage of independence. They may need space to figure out how to do things on their own, navigate on their own and grow up. Once they know they can do it on their own, their communication frequency may change. Freshman year they may be so determined to “adult” and do it themselves, but then they may realize that 1-adulting is harder than they thought and 2-parents know about adulting! Your role may morph from manager to consultant.
If things are hectic for them or if there is some special event going on, perhaps send off a quick text that you are thinking about them and try to adjust your expectation that you may not hear back from them right away. In the event you really do need to talk outside of their schedule, send a text asking when they are available that day to call. Respecting everyone’s time is still a requirement when asking for a call, even if it’s for something important.
What does the communication look like on your end? Are you asking tons of questions about classes, friends, etc.? What to you seems like innocent questions can seem to teenagers like over the top interrogation/intrusiveness. If you are concerned about their mental health, perhaps ask them to text you a selfie just to reassure you that they are ok. That may work better if they are trying to avoid having to answer a slew of questions. Send them pet pictures or memes (but don’t overdo it!). Maybe send short texts that require a response, but just enough to keep you connected.
You may have a kid that doesn’t like to communicate and it could make you crazy. You already know that spending time with them is super enjoyable for you, you crave it. Love them on their terms, and visit from time to time if you are able. Have them invite some friends to a meal off-campus with you and leave them with the leftovers. If you care about their education, don’t make it about them communicating with you. And, as much as it might hurt you, maybe they need the separation from you or other family members to find themselves. Maybe don’t talk too much about our lives at home – they are in their new world. Maybe don’t ask about assignment details, but use really open questions: favorite thing about a class, most interesting friend, etc. to get them storytelling. Ask if they needed anything, and remind them, they’ve got this!
If they go dark, don’t be afraid to reach out – calling or texting a couple of questions just to ease your heart to know they are okay. Not all students adjust well, and it’s overwhelming at times with all the life changes going on at once. If you are concerned after hearing nothing for too long of a time, contact the residence life office for them to do a casual check-in.
Family Weekend is a great opportunity to step into their world and see the new life they have. Most likely they will be excited to show you around campus and introduce you to their friends. Going to dinner or a grocery store to stock up on snacks is a wonderful opportunity to have some alone time with them. There are many sporting events and activities to see and do. If you can’t make a Family Weekend, find another time if possible. Buy Clarkson apparel or a coffee mug for yourself; let them know you are proud of them and support them.
When it’s time for exams (think mid-terms and finals), be supportive and do a lot of listening when they do call! I’m on the Parent and Family Committee, and last year I offered to come on campus in the spring for a few hours during study week. The goal was to be present for any student or faculty that needed encouragement, provide an ear for listening, or for them to pick up a snack/treat from the table I manned. We sometimes forget, in these post-pandemic days, how important in-person contact is. It was an awesome day for all, and we hope to continue this once each semester.
An often-overlooked resource for families is the newly redesigned Clarkson University website. You’ve seen it, but really delve in to all the information there so that you, too, are aware of the services offered. Check out the Clarkson University Parent and Family Association Facebook page. Information is posted here, and you can pose questions to the group. I’ve always found great questions asked and wonderful information given. There are other CU parent pages specific to local areas (New England, Southeastern PA, etc.), and don’t forget the various Clarkson FB sports pages, services like the library or even the mathematics department!
Another fantastic asset is College Care (firstname.lastname@example.org), which was started by a CU student and is now run by his brother. The business is centered around helping students and their families bridge the gap between home and school. They provide family members with a wide variety of personalized care packages that can be delivered directly to the student’s residence hall. They put together packages for any occasion, such as birthdays, sick days, thinking-of-you, and holidays like Easter and Halloween. Customers are able to contact them through email, and they will provide options for purchase. Send them the information and payment all online, and they deliver the care package on the desired date. They try to respond to emails as fast as possible — usually within an hour or two for delivery requests. Main form of payment is Venmo but they can receive payment via other apps like PayPal, cash app, and Zelle. If you would like to read more about their story, Clarkson posted a short article in 2020 about this student-run business.