Navigating Family and Student Roles

During the K-12 school years, families were encouraged to take an active part in their student’s education. In college, one of the goals is for students to develop independence, so families’ roles by definition must be different now.

Family members are still incredibly important – you are the key source of love and support for your student! In order to grow, college students need to make their own decisions. We encourage families to avoid acting in a manager or director role with their students (where you provide directions and answers), and use a consultant role (where you serve as a sounding board to prompt their thinking, but allow your students to find their own answers).

Having role clarity can assist with the transition to college for students and families alike. Here are some suggestions on student vs. family roles.

Your student should:

  • Choose their classes and major
  • Make friends
  • Join campus organizations
  • Handle day to-day needs and decision-making
  • Be the one to work with faculty or campus offices when they have questions or need assistance
  • Share feedback or concerns with appropriate faculty or offices
  • Navigate issues or conflicts with friends, roommates, etc.
  • Troubleshoot basic issues (e.g., finding a ride to the airport, filling out paperwork, submitting residence hall work orders, etc.)
  • Research areas of interest (e.g., classes to take, potential majors, where to study abroad)

Parents and families should:

  • Provide a loving base of support 
  • Listen more, talk less
  • Give them space to grow
  • Be a sounding board
  • Prompt them with questions, but do not supply answers or directions
  • Help only if it’s truly needed (see Stop, Drop, and Roll)

The bottom line: In most cases, your Deac should be the one to do the work, make the call, ask the question, research the classes to take, give the feedback, etc. Our students need space to learn and grow, whereas your problem solving skills are already well-developed. This is their time to find their own way, make their own decisions (and mistakes!), and develop independence.