5 Ways to Parent a Successful College Kid

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Flickr: Striatic

By Larry and Meagan Johnson
Adapted from their new book, "Generations, Inc."

In a recent poll of freshman students, 1 out of 10 freshmen had parents who called them every day or every other day. Another survey found that 4 out of 10 college students (38%) had parents who had spoken with or attended meetings with their academic advisers. Almost a third (31%) had parents who had called professors to complain about a grade. One in 4 described their parents as "overly involved."

Yet 65% of these college kids still asked for their parents' advice on academic and career paths. That doesn't surprise us. We have studied this age group, and found that today's college-age kids are quite unique in their needs, preferences, and abilities. They are also closer to their parents than any other generation before them, and this presents interesting challenges for both kids and parents.

Here are some ways parents can help them, without hovering.

  • Learn to text.

If you want to talk to your college kid, text, don't phone. Or make an appointment by text to phone. Find out his or her class schedule so your text message isn't buzzing in his pocket during a lecture. This crop of college kids sleeps with their phone, so you might as well join in.

  • Guide, don't decide.

If your child is like most of his peers, he probably asked for your help in choosing classes, planning his schedule, and picking extracurricular activities. That's typical of this age group, which has closer ties to and better communication with parents than previous generations. The best way you can help a new college student is to ask leading questions, offer some suggestions, and leave the rest to him.

  • Let them fail.

A crucial part of the learning experience is failing. We're not talking about failing a class. We're talking about signing up too late for a class, or missing an appointment with the counselor. If your child was used to Mom or Dad being the organizer, alarm clock, and reminder, she is bound to make some mistakes. After she does, talk to her about it and ask her what she might do differently next time.

  • Resist your inner editor.

Many college kids these days send papers home for Mom to "edit." In her high school days, that might have been a euphemism for "rewriting." But now your kid is career bound, and writing for her won't benefit your child when she has to demonstrate writing skills at her first job. Use this time to coach, teach, and encourage your budding writer to seek help from the writing center and free tutors all colleges have these days.

  • Keep parenting.

Today's college kids aren't different from their predecessors in terms of partying and going crazy with their newfound independence. There's nothing wrong with talking to your kid about doing his homework, and about partying, sex, and other risky activities. Kids at this age still want limits, and although you won't be there to oversee all their social activities, they want to know that they are still accountable to someone other than themselves.


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Meagan Johnson and her father, Larry Johnson, are the Johnson Training Group. They are coauthors of Generations, Inc.: From Boomers to Linksters--Managing the Friction Between Generations at Work (Amacom, 2010).