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Dear Parents of Soon-to-be College Students,

You’re about to send your baby off to college. Part of you is cheering — They’re finally out of the house! Another part of you is sobbing uncontrollably — They’re never coming back!! Please be assured that both responses are perfectly natural.

As a former university Resident Director, I’ve seen my fair share of tearful goodbye’s on move-in day. And I’ve talked with a fair number of you on the phone, assuring you that Bessie Mae really is doing just fine. (I’ve talked to many of you, too, when Bessie Mae gets herself in a bit of a pickle, too, but that’s for another post!) I know you’re all going to be okay.

That said, since you do have such a limited time left with your child, on behalf of all the Resident Directors (RDs) out there, I’d like to ask you a quick favor:

There are MANY life lessons to be learned at college, but there are some lessons that REALLY need to be learned BEFORE Junior steps foot on campus. Please take a look at this list of life skills and teach your baby as many of them as you can in the next few months!

Here’s what your child’s future RD really wishes you would teach your child before sending him off to college:In this open letter to parent of soon-to-be college students, a former RD spills the 10 life lessons to teach your incoming college student.

1) How to use a microwave, stove, & oven

You probably won’t believe this was my TOP wish for each of my incoming freshmen every year. As the new students would file in on move-in day, it was my most fervent prayer that each and every one of them would know how to use these appliances properly.

You see, every semester we RDs were supposed to conduct fire drills to make sure our residents always knew what to do in case of an emergency. If we had a fire alarm that semester, however, that counted as our drill. In six years of being an RD, I never ONCE had to plan a fire drill. My buildings were always exempt. And I was on a first-name basis with most of the local firemen. ?

The most common culprit of these UNplanned fire alarms? Misusing a microwave, stove, or oven. Burning popcorn, forgetting to add water to microwave oatmeal, heating a pop tart for 20 minutes instead of 20 seconds… I’ve seen more microwave mishaps than I care to see for the rest of my life.

PLEASE, teach your child how to properly cook and reheat food — as well as how to safely handle any cooking accidents that may happen.

While you’re working on the cooking lessons, would you please also teach your child to CLEAN a microwave, stove, and oven? Community appliances require community efforts to keep them clean and usable for all. If Junior is making a pot of stew and it overflows and leaves a mess all over the stovetop, it is SUPER helpful for all involved if he knows how to clean it up safely and thoroughly.

2) How to clean a bathroom

You’ll begin to see a pattern emerging here: cleanliness — or at the very least moderate tidiness — is critical to your child’s maintaining a good standing with her RD and floor mates.

Whether Bessie Mae lives on a floor with a community bathroom, a cluster or suite bathroom, or a private bath, she needs to know how to clean a toilet, a sink, a tub/shower, and remove her hair from the drain. Sharing space with other students can get messy, but she can do a LOT to foster goodwill in her living area by helping to keep the common areas clean.

3) How to keep an orderly & clean room

How many roommate conflicts have I mediated where the issue revolved around cleanliness? Too many to count. No one expects the room to be spotless 24/7, but it would sure help if it at least got picked up regularly.

Residence hall rooms are small, especially when you squeeze in two young adults and all their stuff. Learning to living minimally, put things away when they’re not in use, and handle basic cleaning tasks like dusting, vacuuming, and mopping will help the room feel larger and minimize conflict.

4) How to deal with conflict

Remember that whole small space issue from Life Skills #2 & 3? Roommate conflict is a virtual inevitability. However, knowing how to maturely handle conflict will make life a lot easier for Junior.

The biggest point for you, as a parent, to instill in your child is that confrontation and conflict are not BAD things. If something is bothering him, help him to respectfully explain his frustration to the offending party and request a change or suggest a compromise.

The more Junior is able to respectfully confront those with whom he has conflict, the easier it will be to resolve the issue. If both parties simply sweep their frustrations under the rug, eventually a stiff wind will whip it all out and create a tornado of relational destruction. It is MUCH better for roommates to confront in love and work through the small issues before they have a chance to fester into insurmountable problems.


Read more about how to handle conflict & confrontation constructively here:

Do you HIDE from CONFLICT? Does the thought of confrontation make you want to run away and never come back? Once you master these 5 MASSIVELY IMPORTANT life lessons about conflict & confrontation, you'll never have to hide again -- and you'll be able to teach these lessons to your kids, too!

And grab your FREE Conquering Conflict Guide, as well!


5) How to compromise

Once your baby has a grasp on how to confront another person in love, the next key life skill to master is compromise. Achieving a mutually satisfying solution to conflict generally requires compromise.

If Bessie Mae has always had a room to herself and hasn’t had much practice in the art of compromise, helping her understand its value and practice a bit before she moves in with her new roomie will be HUGELY helpful. Even if she manages to snag a private room, she will still have to work constructively with floormates, suitemates, and classmates with a wide array of opinions and perspectives.

Plus, she’ll have a head-start on successful compromising skills for when she gets married!

6) How to respect authority & the rules set for him

Regardless of your parenting style up to this point, your child will likely get “out on his own” in college and want to test the waters a bit. As Student Life professionals, we expect some boundary pushing.

However, if Junior bumps up against a rule he doesn’t understand or like, the ResLife staff will still expect him to abide by it. We welcome respectful conversations about the rules, why they are in place, and are even open to suggestions for change in some cases, when those requests are put through the proper channels respectfully. (Remember those lessons on conflict and compromise in #4 & 5?)

Blatantly disregarding an established boundary, however, is not acceptable behavior. The more you can help Junior understand the school’s policies and the expectation that he comply with them BEFORE he signs a lifestyle covenant or commits to attend the school, the better prepared he will be to work positively with the ResLife staff and others around campus.

7) How to accept responsibility for her own actions

It never ceased to amaze me how my residents claimed ZERO responsibility for the messes they were in — whether with roommate conflict or a discipline situation. It was ALWAYS someone else’s fault.

If your parenting style has not included natural consequences up to this point, I beg you to implement some during these last few months Bessie Mae is at home.

For a deeper understanding of how to use natural consequences with teenagers, check out Parenting Teens with Love & Logic by Dr. Foster Cline and Jim Fay. I fell in love with Love & Logic while using it with my high school students when I was teaching, and I used it ALL. THE. TIME. with my college students and residents.


You can learn more about using Love & Logic with your younger children here:Struggling with discipline? Weary from constant power struggles? You need these awesome Love & Logic tips for preschoolers!

 


By allowing natural consequences to fall squarely on your child’s shoulders, you help them to see that their decisions are their own responsibility. No one can make their choices for them.

Once students understand that their decision are their responsibility, they also need to understand that when they make a poor choice, they need to own up to it. If Bessie Mae burns popcorn and trips the fire alarm (despite your best instruction for Life Lesson #1!), she needs to own her mistake, go to the RA or RD and tell them exactly what happened.

Handling an emergency situation or a discipline situation is much easier when we a) have all the facts straight from the horse’s mouth, and b) are dealing with an honest, up-front student. Guessing games or “he said/she said” issues just prolong the situation, frustrate all involved, and thwart the ResLife staff’s attempts to assist and instruct your child in whatever they’re facing. Our goal is to help students grow, and we are best able to do so if our students take responsibility for their own actions and are willing to work with us constructively.

8) How to handle failure

This life lesson is a doozy for college students. This current generation has been told their whole live that they can do anything they want. So, what happens when Junior arrives at college and fails his first statistics test? Or when he realizes he’s not a good fit for engineering and what he thought he wanted to do with his life goes up in smoke?

If these students are not prepared in advance to handle failure as a growth opportunity, they crumble. Over the past several years, we have seen a steady stream of students struggling with depression, anxiety, and any number of mental health issues aggravated by immense pressure to perform and an inability to process failure.

Please don’t let your student become another tragic statistic. Help him frame failure positively and use it as motivation to push forward, try again, and persevere in the face of challenges. What greater life lesson could you offer your child to prepare him for the real world?

9) How to get help when he needs it

Should your child still struggle with failure, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, or any other mental health issues, PLEASE instill in him the determination to GET HELP. The Student Life staff can help guide him to whatever services he needs. His RAs and RDs are RIGHT THERE, ready and willing to walk beside him through his journey, no matter how difficult. All he has to do is reach out.

The same goes for if he sees someone else struggling. If his friend isn’t willing to get help, HE can talk to an RA or RD. Never let a friend suffer in silence. Junior doesn’t have to have all the answers, just a willingness to take his friend to someone who can help. He may be just the lifeline his friend needs.

10) How to spread her wings and still keep you in the loop

Before Bessie Mae ever leaves for school, remember to sit down and talk through each of your expectations for communication while she’s away from home. Some students will call home every day, just to chat. Others would go the entire year without ever checking in with you.

If you want to hear from them once a week, just to hear how they’re doing, say so. Is checking in via email acceptable to you? Text? Or do you need to hear their voice?

Keep in mind, Bessie Mae is going to need some space to figure out this whole college thing and how to navigate life without her lifelong support system right there. She WILL make friends and create a “home” for herself on campus, if you give her the freedom to do so. 

I remember when my mom dropped me off at college, she told me not to call home for two weeks. Seriously?? Yep, two whole weeks.  It was an exceptionally hard two weeks, but looking back, I can see it was very wise advice. Had I been able to call home every day, I would have used my mom as my sounding board, support system, and “friend,” without ever attempting to make new friends there. She knew her very introverted daughter well. ☺ She also understood the importance of dedicated time to figure out my surroundings and to discover my place in this new world.

As you discuss expectations with your child, encourage her to take time to spread her wings and learn to fly in her new environment. And don’t be afraid to request that she regularly touch base and keep you in the loop. She needs to know her family is always there to support her just as much as she needs the space to grow on her own.

In this open letter to parent of soon-to-be college students, a former RD spills the 10 life lessons Junior needs to learn before stepping foot on campus.I know letting your baby go will be difficult.

I know you may be simultaneously sobbing and celebrating. But, if you take time this summer to help your child master these 10 life skills, I guarantee their experience — and yours — will be much smoother. And your child’s RD will GREATLY thank you for raising such a wonderful young adult!

You might even get a hug at the end of the year. ?

Wishing you, Junior, and Bessie Mae all HIS best,

A Former RD

P.S. — If you have younger children, starting work on these life lessons EARLY will make their eventual transition to college life even easier for all of you!

If you’re ready to start working on these major life skills with your kiddos, here’s my recommended reading list to get going:

Also, don’t forget to snag your FREE Conquering Conflict Guide where I outline my favorite parenting and general relationship/communication-building tools!

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As a former University Resident Director, Career Counselor, Certified Personality Trainer, and high school Spanish teacher, Laura has quite the “scattered” background — with one underlying theme: education! She writes to teach and inspire women on topics related to faith, family, and lifework. She is also a resume writer, specializing in resumes for moms, career changers, and new graduates.

2 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Parents of Soon-to-be College Students, From a Former RD

  1. As a sophomore in college, this was super interesting. I loved seeing the perspective from a parent! And, yes to the learning how to use a microwave! So many times the dorm next to me has had to have been evacuated due to people burning popcorn.

    • Welcome, Caitlyn! And RIGHT?! Ug… Burnt popcorn… ???? I checked out your blog briefly — very nice! I’m excited to dig a little deeper tomorrow. Despite the fire alarm fiascos and roommate drama, I do love working with college students! ????

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