College 101 for parents

Thousands of Georgia students are heading to college this month and parents — particularly those of incoming freshmen — want to make sure their kids have a good start.

Sending a child to college can be emotional and overwhelming, said Marshall Duke, a psychology professor at Emory University. For more than 20 years, Duke has delivered a popular lecture to parents during student orientation on how families approach this next stage of life.

His tips will come in handy this week as students move into dorms at the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State and other campuses. Emory freshmen move in Aug. 22.

Q: How important are a parent’s parting words? What message should parents send?

A: Dropping off your child to start college is one of those moments so powerful it represents a transition in life. This is when you want to say: "I love being your parent." Or, "I am so proud of what you have done." Saying "Be sure to make your bed every day" is too small.

Parents may be blubbery and may not be able to say what they want to say. If you can say it, say it. If not, as soon as you leave them sit down and write a letter. It can’t be an e-mail, it must be handwritten. You can start: “Today when I left you at campus I wanted to say ...” They won’t throw that letter away.

Q: How often should parents keep in touch with their kids?

A: Expect more calls at the start and fewer at the end. Don't expect they'll be calling on a daily basis. You can e-mail them as much as you want, but they may not answer. You can also send notes and care packages. They may never tell you they want them, but they'll appreciate them.

Q: How should parents respond when their child calls with a problem? When should parents intervene and when should they tell a child to handle it?

A: In the normal course of events, no problem should arise in the life of a college student that cannot be solved on his or her own using available resources. Yes, you can call the dean or the RA [residence adviser or resident assistant] and get it solved. But there is nothing like a student going and solving the problem. The student gets it resolved and gains the empowerment that comes with it.

Q: The old parent threat is to turn the student’s room at home into a gym. Seriously though, can parents re-do the room? What if the family moves to a new house while the student is at college?

A: Leave the room just as it is, at least in the beginning. Everyone in this world needs a home base to feel safe and secure. If the family is moving, ask what objects they want moved to the new house.

Q: Should parents expect their child’s college grades to be like they were high school?

A: Get the 4.0 expectation out of your head. It's not going to happen. College courses are much more difficult and each semester they will get new teachers. The expectation is the worst performance is likely to be first semester. They haven't learned to be good college students yet. They need to learn how to be a college student to perform well in college.

Q: What should parents expect the first time their child comes home from college?

A: When kids come home they will want to run out and see their friends right away. You will see a change in their schedule. On campus the library and food court are open 24 hours, and they send e-mails at 3 a.m. You will see them going out at 10 p.m. or midnight and just starting their night.

You will notice they are living a life that includes the family but doesn’t overlap as much as it used to. Students will begin referring to the college as “home.” That can hurt, but remember that’s where their friends and activities are.

Q: How soon should parents come back to campus and visit?

A: Go to Parents' Weekend. If you ask them if they want you there, they will say no. But trust me, they want you there.