7 tips for parents of college freshmen: Don’t do these things

Lisa Cianci
Orlando Sentinel

Thousands of teary parents are dropping off their precious freshmen at colleges across the country, and it’s an emotional time. VERY emotional. I truly get it. My son is a college senior, and it’s still tough to say goodbye when he goes back to school.

But, hard as it is, there are some things parents are doing that they need to stop. Immediately. (I may or may not be guilty of doing a few of these myself.)

Here is a list of what NOT to do when your child starts college:

1. Demand daily communication.

You’re used to seeing your kid every day … and now you don’t know what he’s doing. You worry. Is he safe? Is he happy? All valid feelings. But resist the urge to tell your child he must check in with you every day. Some parents call it “proof of life.” But what it’s really doing is showing your student that you don’t trust him. Now, some kids may want to text you every day. Other parents might not hear from their children for days or weeks at a time. Let them take the lead.

Pro tip: If the radio silence has gone on a long time, and you’re desperate to hear from your child, send him a cute photo of the family dog or cat. That should prompt a response.

2. Insist on a tracker.

Family location apps, such as Life360 or Find My Friends, are popular with parents, and they seem reasonable for younger kids or new drivers. But once your child gets to college, leave it up to him to decide whether he wants to take it off his phone. If you really want to lose his trust, vow to stop paying for his phone if he doesn’t use a tracking app. You see it as a safety thing; he sees it as an invasion of privacy.

Pro tip: Tell your student that the benefit of a tracking app is that he can see where you are, too. That didn’t really work with my son, though, who said, “I don’t care where you are!”

3. Stalk your student on social media.

It’s tempting to try to figure out what your student is doing. All. The. Time. But if you stalk her on social media, you might realize you don’t really want to know. Take deep breaths and remember what you were like when you were in college. (Or, maybe not. That might just make you more anxious.)

Pro tip: If you must stalk, for God’s sake DO NOT LEAVE ANY COMMENTS! That is a sure-fire way to get blocked.

4. Overdecorate your student’s dorm room.

Have you seen some of the photos of newly decked-out dorm rooms? Wow! I wish my house looked as good. As the mom of a boy, I have to say some seem a bit over the top … even if they are awfully darn cute. OK, so maybe I’m just jealous that I have a son who doesn’t care about decorating (although he did allow photos in his room for the first time this year!)

Pro tip: Let your child take the lead on what she wants her dorm room to look like, and then you can help make her dreams happen. (And stock up on Bed, Bath & Beyond 20 percent off coupons!)

5. Visit often (or unannounced).

My son goes to school and lives 20 minutes from our home. So how many times did we go to his apartment last year? Twice: To help move him in and to help move him out. This year, he moved into an unfurnished apartment, which entailed needing our help a few times to assemble furniture, etc. After we got the last of it done, he said, “Well! I guess this will be the last time you’re in my apartment.” Message received, son. The truth is this is their space, and it’s reasonable for a college dorm or apartment to be a “no-parents zone.”

Pro tip: If you do plan a visit, give your child plenty of notice. And plan an outing while you’re there; don’t chill for hours in his dorm or apartment. And definitely don’t spend the night there. That’s just weird — and awkward for his roommates, too.

6. Get too emotional

This is rough. Your child’s world is about to change. But, darn it, so is yours — especially if, like me, you only have one child. But your child is looking at you to set the tone, so acting like the world is ending isn’t going to inspire a lot of confidence at a crucial time in his or her life. So try to stay upbeat and excited about the future.

Pro tip: Cry as much as you want — and as long as you want — once you’re safely away from your kid. And don’t let others chide you for “not being happy.” You can be happy and sad. It’s OK.

7. Jump in to solve every crisis.

If you’re used to piloting that helicopter around your child, now is the time to stop. Seriously. Don’t email his professor. Don’t get in the middle of roommate issues. Cut the cord and let him fly or stumble. For a child who is used to his parents doing everything for him, this could be a big adjustment. And with parental help only a text away, it’s easy for parents to continue to swoop in and save the day. (Trust me, I know what I’m talking about.)

Pro tip: Try telling your child this: “If you have a problem, take 20 minutes and try to work out for yourself how to solve it before texting me for help.”