The phone calls typically start coming in mid-October—as midterms approach.
That’s when many students, facing mounting academic pressure and overwhelmed by pangs of homesickness, feel a meltdown coming and call home to unload on their parents. It’s a conversation that makes parents anxious, too, and spurs them to want to jump in with a life preserver.
Resist that urge, says Kristine Gilchrist-Minasidis, director of the University Service Center, the place students and parents can call with questions or problems. Gilchrist-Minasidis has been working with parents and students making the transition to college for more than a decade, and she’s familiar with this annual October anxiety uptick.
“Think critically before jumping in,” she warns parents. “Ask yourself the question: does my student need something from me or just a comforting and reliable person to talk to?”
That’s not to say, however, that all calls home (or lack thereof) should be treated the same. When should a parent intervene? And when sit on the sidelines? It depends on the situation, says Carrie Landa, director of Behavioral Medicine and associate director of clinical services at BU’s Student Health Services. Gilchrist-Minasidis agrees. Landa has worked with students and parents for years as well and both have some pointers for parents of freshmen. Because you’re making a transition too.
Students may call their parents to vent feelings they’re not comfortable sharing with peers. And those conversations will usually help students feel better afterwards. That means that as a parent, once the call ends, your work is done (even if it leaves you feeling miserable).
Pay attention, however, to situations that signal deeper student distress, Landa says. For example, the daughter who had been thriving academically and is now struggling to get passing grades or the son who was a social butterfly in high school and now has no relationship with his roommate and eats alone.
“If a parent sees their student struggling in more subtle ways, have a conversation,” Landa says. “Remind them about resources on campus. Encourage them to reach out if they need to. Think about what helped them in high school and see if it’s possible to replicate it at BU. And most important, remind them to find balance in their academic and social life.”
Parents may also want to reach out to someone at the University with any concerns or learn about student services, among them the University Service Center, 617-617-358-1818; the Dean of Students, 617-353-4126; Residence Life, 617-353-4380; Disability Services, 617-353-3658; the Educational Resource Center, 617-353-7077; or Student Health Services Behavioral Medicine, 617-353-3569.
When concerns are brought to the University, officials will engage the appropriate people to meet with the student in real time, Landa says, to ensure that they’re safe.
Gilchrist-Minasidis says staff in her office are also available to talk about an issue or course of action. “Sometimes talking over a situation with a knowledgeable University staff member will help you feel better,” Gilchrist-Minasidis says.
Have realistic expectations
Your son or daughter who is 18 and older is an adult. That’s more than a symbolic number. The University Service Center, for example, can tell parents what a student’s options are, but cannot disclose information about the student, including their grades or healthcare information. Colleges and universities must have legal permission from students in order to release any information about their grades, as outlined by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
And be forewarned: the center is not a concierge service. University staff will not go to your child’s dorm room to ensure that they get up on time for class. (Yes, that’s been requested.)
Parents and students should also talk about who will be responsible for handling financial details, like semester payments, aid renewal materials, and scholarship applications.
A parent paying all or part of the college tuition bill needs to have a conversation with their student about their expectations when it comes to sharing information like grades, Gilchrist-Minasidis says. Students can authorize the release of grades and other information on the University’s ShareLink site.
“Define a successful semester,” Gilchrist-Minasidis says. “Anticipating concerns and mapping out potential strategies will alleviate stress on the part of both students and parents.”
Talk with your daughter or son about your expectations regarding the frequency of your communication, whether by phone, email, or text. Do you need to keep in touch once a month, once a week, or every two days?
If your student ignores an agreed-upon plan, have another conversation about it. Try to keep an open dialogue, and remember—be flexible if they are struggling with maintaining a communication routine. This is all new to them.
If you don’t hear from your son or daughter, text them directly and ask for a one-word answer to the question, “R U safe?” If you still don’t hear, consider the possibilities. Maybe your student has lost their phone charger and is waiting for a new one to arrive from Amazon.
The University can conduct a wellness check if there is significant concern about a student’s safety, Landa says. But that’s typically a last resort, after emails and texts have gone unanswered.
Wellness checks are sometimes conducted by campus police, who will go to a student’s dorm or residence. But bear this in mind: having a campus police officer show up at a dorm room can be scary, awkward, or embarrassing for a student if they are, in fact, completely fine and maybe just not in the mood to connect with mom or dad.
Gilchrist-Minasidis says parents can benefit from getting to know the cell phone numbers of their son’s or daughter’s roommates or even trading cell phone numbers with them. But again, dialing that number should be a last resort.
Recognize a crisis
Parents should always intervene if a student talks about suicide, harming themselves, or hurting someone else. There are several services on campus available to help parents navigate such circumstances or to call in emergencies.
“The BUPD and Behavioral Medicine are always available to field these types of concerns and discuss possible next steps,” Landa says.
You can reach the BUPD 24 hours a day at 617-353-2121. Behavioral Medicine has a 24/7 on-call service for mental health emergencies at 617-353-3569.
Concerned parents can help their son or daughter by encouraging them to make an appointment with one of the behavioral health counselors on campus. However, it is the student who must take that initiative. Parents cannot make the appointment for their child. Gilchrist-Minasidis says her office is one of many at BU that will work with students to give them the information they need to get help.
Reassure your son or daughter that any new endeavor can be challenging. They are not alone. And remember that parenting is hard, but that students are savvy. “You taught them well. Let them learn and grow,” Gilchrist-Minasidis says. “We think they’re going to learn and grow better if they succeed on their own.”
September 10, 2019
September 10, 2019
September 10, 2019