Here are some scenarios to discuss together as a family. The more you and your student talk about these things in advance, the more prepared you will be when challenging events happen. And they will!
There are no right or wrong answers for any of these situations. But we’ve tried to provide some guidance that we hope you find helpful.
Your son has not sounded quite like himself every time you’ve spoken with him since he arrived at F&M a few weeks ago. When you press, you discover that he’s terribly homesick. He hasn’t made any friends and he’s feeling lonely and depressed. What should you say and do?
Homesickness is not unusual for students, but it can feel very isolating when students feel they are the only ones who miss friends, family, old traditions, etc. The myths that college roommates are supposed to be best friends and that college is the best time of your life are still pervasive, and often intensify normal separation anxiety. Many students find support from the student leaders and staff in their College House or confidential Counseling Services. For others, simply getting involved with campus activities can provide networking opportunities to help students feel connected to the College community.
For many students, learning to adapt to a new environment or build meaningful relationships from scratch may be a new skill. Don’t jump in too quickly to rescue your student from the discomfort of change, but DO encourage your student to take risks by joining clubs, attending events, sitting down with strangers in the dining hall, or just asking for help.
Question to consider: Does your student need advice or is s/he just looking for a place to vent?
You opened up a checking account for your daughter before she went off to college. You put in what you thought would be an adequate amount of money for her entire first semester. However, with three weeks still left in the semester, she calls home to ask for money. She claims she hasn’t been spending foolishly; the little things she had to buy just added up to more than she had planned. What should you say and do?
While there are suggested dollar amounts available through Financial Aid, there is no exact budget amount for individual families. Communication is key. While you’ll have to decide what to do in the moment, it might be worth the time and relative tension to sit down to develop a budget with your student. Helping your student differentiate between needs and wants, and set realistic projections of day-to-day expenses is part of the development process. Making further assessments about whether or where to seek employment to cover some expenses is also encouraged. There are many jobs available on and off campus to students. Encourage your student to contact the Student Employment Office for more information.
Your son has returned home for winter break and you expect life to be “as usual." His first night out with his friends, he doesn’t come home until 3:30 AM. His curfew while at home before going away to college was 12:30 AM. What should you say and do?
As with most of these scenarios, we recommend that you talk about how you want to define your relationship with your college student before situations like this arise. In most cases, this is an issue of defining adulthood. Your student has experienced independence as a college student and wishes to be treated like an adult. At the same time, you wish for the same respect.
Many families find success when they create a relationship in which their son or daughter is treated as an adult guest. Just as you would ask your old pal from the Navy to let you know her itinerary when she stays with you, it’s reasonable to expect the same from your son/daughter.
Questions to discuss with your student: What are the expectations of each other when it comes to going out, borrowing money, borrowing the car, etc? Can we find a way to value your independence while you recognize our reasonable concerns?
After a few weeks away at college, your daughter claims that she cannot find her favorite shampoo and conditioner anywhere in Lancaster and wants you to send her a supply of toiletries each month. And, while you’re at it, please also send pens and notebooks - she’s too busy to get to the store to buy them. Oh, and by the way, she also can’t find the time to get into the Student Employment Office to ask about a job, nor the International Study Office to learn about junior year opportunities abroad and wants you to help her get this information. What should you say and do?
Ah, it’s the old "can’t find my favorite shampoo" trick. Students ARE busy. We worry when we think students are not engaged, but we also expect students to learn life management skills. Even students who participate in athletics, leadership organizations, campus employment, and have healthy social lives should have time to run errands and manage personal affairs. Finding new hair stylists, restaurants, and other services they can trust will be a valuable learning experience for students.
You have trouble reaching your son - no answer in his room, his cell phone appears to be turned off and he's not answering his e-mails. When you finally reach his roommate, he says he's been at the infirmary a few times lately because he's "really sick." Panicked, all you want to do is come to his rescue! What should you say and do?
This scenario may have more to do with communication than Health Services. The expectations parents have for frequency and topics for conversation may be different than those of their students. Perhaps a situation like this opens the door for a discussion about how often each of you needs to talk, and about when you need to know certain information. While deep down, you might not want to know everything your student is doing, you may need to know when s/he plans to take a road trip, spend a night outside his/her room, etc.
In terms of health care, the good news in this scenario is that the student sought help. Often, students wait until they are very ill, rather than taking proactive measures to take care of physical ailments. As you can see from the Health Services website, many problems can be handled right here on campus, and when that is not possible, professional referrals can be made. The Health Services office is not open 24-hours, but when students take proactive measures to care for themselves, they have an exceptional resource right in their back yard.
Recent calls from your daughter have not referenced her boyfriend of long standing and you wonder why he is no longer in the picture. When you ask her about him, she starts to cry and tells you that she has done something wrong. After you invest considerable time and energy into your telephone conversation, she describes to you the events of an evening several weeks ago, during the first couple weeks of school. After a party (including several drinks), she went back to a guy’s room, one thing led to another, and before she knew it, she awoke the next morning, still in his room, realizing she was the victim of date rape. What should you say and do?
Before you can be of help to your student, you may find that you need someone to talk to in order to sort out the myriad of emotions that can flood an individual who loves someone who has been hurt. A skilled counselor may be able to help.
The first step to helping someone who has been victimized is to listen without judgment and help her/him understand the options available. Franklin & Marshall has a professional staff member called a Sexual Assault Advocate who has been trained to help students through each step of the process from making sure s/he is physically cared for, to explaining the options for reporting the violation.
We don’t wish this scenario on any family, but the College and community have a network ready to assist when needed: Sexual Assault Advocate, Health Services, Women’s Center, YWCA, Dean of Students, and Public Safety.
Your son has completed his first year at F&M and brought home a 2.0 GPA. He was a straight A student in high school. He has gotten very involved in many activities at F&M and is having a great time socially and extracurricularly. What should you say and do?
Grades are a reflection of a lot of factors, and a number rarely tells the story. Taking the time to listen without jumping to conclusions could go a long way. Once your and your student have a good sense of what the 2.0 means in the long run, you can help your student decide what is best in looking to the next semester.
For assistance with personal matters, the College offers free and confidential Counseling Services.
Starting off with a rough semester is not the end of the world, but being able to reflect on what happened and asking for help could be essential to turning things around. Just as the College aims to both challenge and support each student, parents can do the same.
Your son comes home for the weekend and you overhear his telephone conversation with a friend. He is talking about his roommate whom he believes drinks too heavily and uses drugs … and his subsequent problems with that roommate. What should you say and do?
The first question to consider is, “What is my core concern here?” Is it the health of the roommate? The quality of life of your student? Another question to ponder is, “What is the core concern of my student and what steps has s/he taken to address it?” You may find that your students is exaggerating for dramatic effect on the phone, or genuinely concerned for his/her roommate and self. Depending on what you find out, you may find the following resources helpful for your student: House Advisors, Health Services, Counseling Services, and Teen Guide to Helping Friends.
Your daughter calls home after a few weeks at F&M reporting that the food is awful, there’s no social life, the academic work is too demanding, and that she’s planning to transfer for second semester. What should you say and do?
Similar to some of the other situations listed here, you may be dealing with a student who just needs someone to listen. It’s often remarkable how just acknowledging someone’s feelings can offer comfort. Some key phrases might sound something like: “Sounds like you’re dealing with a lot right now.” Lots of parents tell us that repeating back the basic feelings of their student can result in a sense of relief on the other end of the phone. “Who do you think you might talk to about your concerns?” might be another non-aggressive way to help your student find the resources to sort out his/her feelings in order to decide what steps to take to resolve them. Gently suggesting that your student seek out a House Assistant or confidential Counseling Services might be a place to start.
Your son has decided to join a fraternity and seems to be spending all of his time with pledging activities. You worry that his grades will suffer and that peer pressure might lead him to do things he may not ordinarily do and wonder if this was a sound decision. What should you say and do?
A student’s first job at college is to be, well, a student, so your concern mirrors that of the campus. At the same time, being involved in extracurricular activities is considered a part of the educational experience at Franklin & Marshall. Here are some questions that might help you as you talk to your student:
Is there a reason you are concerned about your student’s decision (grades, maturity of your student, etc) or are you basing your anxiety on stereotypes?
Is your student already involved in activities or would the fraternity be the only organization s/he has as a support network?
Will taking a firm stance on your feelings result in the desired outcome for your or your student?
Here are some resources available to you throughout the rush and pledging processes: Office of Greek Life & Leadership.
Your daughter calls home and says that “everyone” is going to Barbados for Spring Break. Can she go? Oh yeah, she’ll also need an extra $200 for shopping at the King of Prussia mall before the trip. She worries that she won’t fit in if she doesn’t have a cool new bathing suit like all of her friends. What should you say and do?
This is a tough situation–with no clear-cut answer, although we suggest that you ask some of the following questions to your student:
Reflecting your student’s feelings back to her/him might help clarify what is going on. For instance: “It sounds like you’re concerned about fitting in with your friends. Is something going on that makes you think you need to dress a certain way to fit in?”
“Who is ‘everyone’? How is ‘everyone’ paying for the trip?”
“Considering all the different places families spend money for college expenses, where would you rank this in the list of priorities? If it’s high, how might we work together to make it affordable? What other things do you think we might be able to cut?”
Your son constantly complains to you that the kids on his hall are too loud and that they are keeping him up at night. What should you say and do?
The easy answer here is to tell your student to confront the people making the noise. If only life were that easy! Many students are comfortable working with peers to solve problems, but many have never had to engage in a difficult conversation before, and find the thought of it quite daunting.
The first place for your student to start is with the floor’s House Advisor. While the HA is not going to solve the problem for your student, he/she will be able to offer a number of suggestions to lessen the anxiety as your son/daughter decides how best to voice his/her concerns. Your student may have a lot more options than s/he realizes.
Again, this may be a scenario in which you ask your student, “Were you calling for advice or just to vent?”
Your daughter looks thinner than usual when she comes home for winter break. When you comment on it, she says the food is terrible at school. You’ve noticed that she seems to be distancing herself a bit from her friends and that she doesn’t seem to eat much during your family dinners. What should you say and do?
If your student suffers from an eating disorder, early treatment from professionals is the goal. Consultation with trained counselors or health care professionals can help you assess your student’s condition and take the necessary steps to reach out to your son or daughter. Franklin & Marshall’s Health Services has a full-time physician and Counseling Services has staff with an in-depth understanding of eating disorders. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Here are a few helpful links: Health Services, Counseling Services, and National Eating Disorders Association – Parent & Family Resources.
Your son’s international roommate has already arrived, moved in, and apparently started preparing his native food in your room when you get to campus to move in. There’s an unfamiliar smell lingering in the air in your child’s tight new quarters and you can tell that your son is feeling uncomfortable. What should you say and do?
What should you do? The easiest answer here: nothing. If we do our job right at the College, “different,” “uncomfortable,” and “challenging” will be a part of each student’s educational experience. Learning from other students and from new life experiences will help all involved. At this stage, your student has a great opportunity to learn before deciding whether or not the “unfamiliar smell” is good or bad. From there, the communication doesn’t have to be any different that negotiating how loud the TV volume should be or how high to keep the air conditioning turned on.
Resources your student may find helpful: House Advisor, Office of International Students, and “College Roommates 101” (Common sense advice from a student’s perspective).