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Campus Life

Parents Weekend Primer

Navigating the first freshman visit, and a list of events


Marcia Beckford helped her daughter, Crystal Burrell (CAS’14), move in to Warren Towers earlier this year. Photo by Vernon Doucette

This is Parents Weekend (a list of events can be found here), and thousands of Boston University parents will visit with their sons and daughters for the first time since they left for college several weeks ago. For the majority, the occasion will be a rewarding experience. For the parents of some freshmen though, it will also involve delicately negotiating a new balance of power. Students may be rightfully proud of their ability to take control of their lives, and some parents may be nervous about the many choices that students have to make.

To get some professional advice about how this issue and others may play out, BU Today spoke with physician David McBride, the director of Boston University’s Student Health Services.

BU Today: For some parents of freshmen, this weekend is the first time they’ve seen their children since August. In the intervening weeks, those children have gained a new sense of independence. What expectations should parents and students have of one another?
Many families have been through the same scenario with older siblings, but the new college experience is different for everyone. I think that it’s important to keep in mind that your student’s life has changed dramatically since you’ve seen him or her last, while yours may have remained for the most part the same. Students are immersed in a completely new social and academic environment when they go off to school. Though you may have stayed closely in touch on the phone or via email and texting, don’t be surprised if your student is a little more “different,” based on these new experiences, than you would have expected. They may not be as excited to see you as you are to see them. That may also be a little painful.

Should parents treat their sons and daughters differently now that they are college students?
The process of encouraging independence and self-reliance really starts in the cradle. I do still talk to students who are relying on their parents to be their advocates without standing up for themselves first. The first “call” when a student encounters a difficult situation should be from the student to the person or system where the problem initiates, and not from the student to a parent. Parents should treat their college student like an independent adult, complete with holding them accountable for mistakes and praising them when they succeed. We hope that when students come to university, they have been encouraged to make decisions independently and in the context of a moral framework established by their family. Provided that process has happened, parents can continue to encourage the same.

Should parents try to give students a break from their campus environment this weekend or should they stay on campus?
I would suggest letting your college student take the lead in this. Students may want to show families what their life is like. This may not fit exactly with what parents want to do.

How can parents show respect for their son’s or daughter’s independence?
Progressively encouraging independence is a great way to show respect for this element of personal development in your student. If you find that your student is calling frequently for advice, begin to think about how you can coach them through solving problems before taking on the problem yourself. Talk with them about how you make decisions and solve problems yourself.

Another extremely important, but painful, way to foster independence is to allow your student to fail and learn from their failure. The current generation of college students has not, in my opinion, been allowed to work through personal failure enough.

What about siblings? Should they come to Parents Weekend?
My sibs enjoyed spending time with me when I was in college. I think having sibs along is great.

How can parents tell whether their sons and daughters are happy?
Seeing your student interact with friends is an important clue. I think that involvement in student life and organizations is a good indicator of adjustment. Performance in school can also be an indicator of relative happiness.

Are students likely to be more or less communicative when they are at home?
Every student is different in this regard. Sometimes students may be less communicative because they are trying to establish their independence and may want family to “butt out.” This is a normal part of development.

How, if at all, should parents and students discuss grades and expectations?
It is important that everyone, not just college students, understand that there are rewards and consequences based on one’s performance in life. I believe that families should have this discussion before a student goes off to college: “If we are paying the bill, this is what we expect.” I don’t think that a parent can suddenly set up rules if there have never been any in the past.

At this point, is there such a thing as parental authority? Or is there just parental advice?
I think that this question revolves entirely around what the relationship has been like prior to college. Every family is different in this regard.

Are there likely to be issues that students are embarrassed or afraid to ask for help about?
I don’t think that this is a generation that has difficulty asking for help. Unfortunately, they often ask parents to act as intermediaries in getting the help that they need. Coaching your student through how to seek help independently is really important.

How can parents encourage their son or daughter to make good decisions when they’re not around?
You can provide a good role model when you are with them. If you take your son or daughter out to dinner, you can conduct yourself the way you’d like them to act. That means moderation when it comes to drinking, among other things. Your actions have a huge impact on the actions of your son or daughter.

What’s the worst mistake a parent can make?
I think that thinking you can make a worst mistake is a worst mistake. Who said, “You worry too much—cut it out!”? Parents should just be who they are and enjoy their student during Parents Weekend.

Parents Weekend: What to Do Together

Hosting mom and dad, a role reversal if ever there was one, is not always easy (return to David McBrides interview here). Downtime can be a downer; after all, parents didn’t come from near and far to sit in a dorm room.

Fortunately, the University has put together a full slate of activities. Take your pick: salsa dancing and a piña colada bar? A famous comedy troupe? Tours of FitRec? You’ve only just begun.

A complete listing of events is available here, and as you’ll see, the variety is remarkable. For a quick head start, browse through some highlights below, culled by category, and start planning.

One piece of advice for those headed off-campus to enjoy Boston: take the T. If that seems a little daunting, especially with parents in tow, read our guide on getting around.

The Second City comedy troupe performs live Friday night. Since 1959, Second City has established itself as a Chicago landmark and a national treasure. The theater launched the careers of such greats as John Belushi, Mike Myers, Bill Murray, and Gilda Radner. Note: some material may not be suitable for younger viewers.
The event is Friday at 9 p.m. in the George Sherman Union Metcalf Hall, 775 Commonwealth Ave. Tickets are $25 per person.

Join Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore and members of the Student Life staff at Fenway Park for a Jazz Brunch.
The Jazz Brunch is Saturday morning, with seatings at 9:15 and 10:45 a.m., at Fenway Park, 4 Yawkey Way. Tickets are $40. Be sure to call 617-353-3555 to check on availability; barring last-second cancellations, both seatings are full.

Two performances of the Broadway musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, by BU’s student group Stage Troupe, will be showing this weekend.
Tickets are $20. The shows, Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m., are at the Tsai Performance Center, 685 Commonwealth Ave.

Haven’t seen all that FitRec has to offer? Free tours happen all day on Saturday, so check out the lazy river, racquetball courts, and the Olympic-size pool, where Michael Phelps starred in a Subway commercial.
All day Saturday; your full-time student must be with you for entry.

Boston Salsa University, last year’s New Student Organization of the Year, will demonstrate the basic moves and turns of salsa at Salsa Con Piña. Great music and a piña colada bar (with or without alcohol) will keep the mood light and loosen up your inhibitions.
The event is Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Howard Thurman Center, 775 Commonwealth Ave., lower level. Tickets are $15.

Stop by to hear Mark T. Williams, a School of Management master lecturer in finance and economics and author of Uncontrolled Risk: Lessons of Lehman Brothers and How Systemic Risk Can Still Bring Down the World Financial System, speak about Finance and Ethics: Mutually Exclusive? a discussion about finance and ethics on Wall Street.
The event is at 1 p.m. on Saturday at the School of Management, 595 Commonwealth Ave., Room 208. Admission is free.

Alfred Hitchcock fans won’t want to miss Through the Eyes of Alfred Hitchcock. John Fawell, a College of General Studies professor, will show Rear Window and discuss the film techniques employed by the master of suspense.
The film screening is at 1 p.m. on Saturday, followed by the lecture and discussion at 3 p.m., at the College of General Studies, 871 Commonwealth Ave., Room 505. Admission is free.

Study Abroad:
Attend the Study Abroad Expo to meet study-abroad participants and find out about internships, experiences, and travel.
Saturday, from noon to 3 p.m., at the Howard Thurman Center, 775 Commonwealth Ave., lower level.

Art Jahnke can be reached at jahnke@bu.edu. Nicole Rojas (COM12) and Brendan Gauthier (COM’11) contributed to this report. Nicole Rojas can be reached at nrojas@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @nrojas0131. Brendan Gauthier can be reached at btgauth@bu.edu.


One Comment on Parents Weekend Primer

  • Anonymous on 10.22.2010 at 11:06 am

    can’t wait to see my MOM!

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