By: Cyndy Hill, director, Penn State Parents Program
I have the pleasure of working as the director of the Penn State Parents Program. Helping families like yours navigate this new relationship with your children as they become responsible young adults is one of the most rewarding professional experiences I have had.
I am also a parent of a rising Penn State senior and a recent alum (plus one more at home). Watching my children transition from high school student to college student and from children to adults has been one of the most amazing parenting experiences.
As I meet new parents and families during New Student Orientation and other Penn State events, many parents ask me about my personal and professional experience. I thought I would share some of the most common questions.
What do you think of FERPA?
FERPA stands for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which protects the privacy of student educational records. First and foremost, FERPA is a Federal law that universities must follow, but I think FERPA helps families by providing some structure to the changing relationship that families have with their new college students. FERPA prevents you from accessing information about your college student without their written permission, requiring you to have a conversation about how this information will be shared once your child becomes a college student. This is an important conversation for a family and can mark the beginning of the new adult-to-adult relationship you will have with your child. By having this conversation, you are showing support of their college career, recognizing that your student is the responsible person when it comes to their education, and acknowledging how you hope to remain involved.
Why do you call my child “your student”?
Using the term student is more inclusive. When we are giving a presentation to a large group, not everyone in the group is the parent of a student. They may be a sibling, a grandparent, a spouse, or another supportive person. Recently, I met a teacher who attended New Student Orientation with a student.
Using the term student recognizes their new role. While they will always be your child, college students are adults and universities have adult expectations of them. By referring to them as children, we would be communicating that you, the parent, are the responsible party. College students are adults. As adults, we are required to respect their privacy (see FERPA above). It is our job, in addition to educating them and providing a safe community, to help your student become a responsible, contributing citizen.
Are you really going to “punish” my student for not reading their email?
I know students don’t read their email. At least that’s what they say. However, depending on the situation, your student may have consequences when they don’t check their email. We tell students and families that we communicate important information via the student’s Penn State email account. This includes housing information and tuition bills. If your student fails to check their email and respond accordingly, there are consequences. I have talked with families of students who have had to pay significant late fees or even lost their place in the housing lottery because their student failed to check (or read/respond to) their email. We expect your student to be responsible for these kinds of emails. Learning that there are consequences to not responding to a request is an important lesson for young adults.
Should I come to Parents and Families Weekend?
This is actually one of the tougher questions. Of course, I think you should come to Parents and Families Weekend. We spend nearly a year planning a weekend full of activities designed to provide opportunities for you to reconnect with your student, learn about Penn State through their eyes, and experience something new on campus. We schedule the weekend after the newness of the semester wears off, the first rounds of grades are back, great roommates may no longer be great, and students are usually tired (and sometimes sick). Students are typically ready for a visit from home, especially first-year students.
However, I always recommend that this is a good conversation to have with your student. They may have different ideas about your visits to campus. They may be busy with papers, projects, and/or exams. Respect their choices when it comes to your visits.
What books are you reading about parenting college students?
No one really asks this question. But there are some really great books (and blogs) out there. I particularly like the books How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lytchcott-Haims, former dean of students at Stanford University, and The Teenage Brain by Francis E. Jensen, M.D., neurologist and parent of two former teenage boys. There are some good blogs, but it is important to recognize that most blog writers are sharing their personal experiences and their situation may not apply to your student or their institution.
There are so many more questions…we hear it all. Most importantly, we, the Parents Program, are here to help you during your student’s time at Penn State, whatever the question.
Happy college student parenting!