It seems like just yesterday that you were zipping jackets and wiping noses, and now you’re waving goodbye from a college sidewalk. Your relationship has been all about meeting your child’s needs while providing controls, safety, guidance and limits for 18 years. And now you’re supposed to go home and let your sons and daughters manage on their own?
It is bad enough to have to wonder about whether or not they are eating their vegetables and doing their school work, but if you stay up-to date on college students and substance abuse trends, you’ll make yourself sick with worry. What can you do, and more importantly, what should you do to stay sane and protect your kids?
Stay Informed on Campus Substance Use – But Not Too Informed
Are you staying up on the latest trends and statistics regarding the use of substances on college campuses? That’s probably a good idea. Forewarned is forearmed. Having at least a basic sense of what kids are using and what these substances do to a student’s mind and body is a good start, as unpleasant as gaining this knowledge might be. But beware of becoming obsessed. For some parents, the hunt for more information can become compulsive and nonproductive.
Reading about horrors others have experienced feels like you’re vaccinating yourself against it happening in your own family—parents can seduce themselves into reading everything they can as an unconscious deal that this will keep your child safe. Ultimately, this bargain doesn’t work. You’ll scare yourself silly, stress yourself out, and quite possibly upset your partner. Stay on a sensible information diet and, most importantly of all, keep the lines of communication open with your child.
Remember Your Past, But Don’t Assume Your Child Is Living It
Use your own experience as a way to gain some insight into your child, not as a way to determine what he or she is doing. Times have changed; your specific experiences with drugs or alcohol may not be something your child can relate to at all. But developmental challenges and the emotional issues that come along with the territory—these things are similar generation to generation.
Try to remember your own struggles to earn respect as an adult and a peer, and how you felt when your folks showed you that respect. Use your memories of the emotions you felt to guide any conversations you have. Feeling respected and being treated as a fellow adult will likely help your child to behave like an adult worthy of your respect.
Creating A New Relationship With Your Adult Children
Forge a new relationship with your college student child. You no longer have the “hands on” role you once had. It’s time to figure out a new way to be a parent—not a friend—with more equal footing than you’ve had thus far. This may be very tricky, since those traditional college years are a real no mans land: not old enough to drink legally, but old enough to join the military and vote; a full-time student, yet dependent upon parents in very real (financial, emotional, etc.) ways.
You may have the urge to continue parenting like you always have: setting limits and providing consequences. But how do you “ground” someone who no longer lives with you? Parenting with the objective of controlling your child is not only impossible, it’s no longer appropriate. It’s time for you to trust that you did a good enough job over the past 18 years, and allow something other than control to guide your parenting.
As exciting as it is to enter into an adult relationship with your kid, it isn’t easy. But then again, neither were 3 a.m. diaper changes or feedings, and 5th grade social drama or playground bullying issues were not exactly a breeze. Each stage has its challenges, but the advice remains consistent. Keep communicating. Listen more than you talk. And if a problem with drugs or alcohol arises, be ready to seek professional help. Treatment works, and even if your child doesn’t take advantage of the benefits of professional treatment, you and your partner can.