Advice to parents of freshmen students from a top Winthrop educator

Staff reports

Winthrop University Ambassador Alex Pinto (right) leads a tour of the campus with a group of high school students and their parents. (ROB UPTON)
Winthrop University Ambassador Alex Pinto (right) leads a tour of the campus with a group of high school students and their parents. (ROB UPTON)

College students across the country return to campuses this month, including more than 1,000 new freshmen at Winthrop University.

Winthrop’s opening schedule includes speeches by the school’s new President Dan Mahony, the annual Convocation and Blue Line activities, and a week’s worth of on-campus entertainment and movies.

For the new students – most of them young adults – there is plenty to do on campus to help them assimilate. For many of their parents and loved ones, though, the transition and “letting go” can be tough.

During summer new student and parent orientation sessions at Winthrop, school officials help families prepare for the change. Winthrop’s University College Dean Gloria Jones – the mother of four children, the first of whom headed to college 26 years ago – has this advice for parents of college freshmen:

Tip for parents: Encourage your student to join clubs or organizations. At Winthrop, there are nearly 150 to choose from.

“Letting Go”

Our world has been transformed by two phenomena since my first child headed off to college 26 years ago.

First, our society has a growing concern for our children’s safety. Whether this concern is a direct result of 9/11 or other frightening events in public places, we want to keep a closer watch, a closer connection with our children. The second phenomenon assists us in maintaining those strong connections – the cell phone.

Think for just a minute about my 50-year-old+ generation who went to work right out of high school or who went to college as a freshman and lived on campus. How many of you had a cell phone? So what did you do when something happened at work that was disturbing? What did you do when you could not get one of the classes that you wanted at the university or when you overslept and missed the class that took you over the allowed absences? What did you do when you realized that your roommate was a slob? Did you call home?

We had two pay phones in our dorm or one on a hall. Calling home was not an option whenever we had a problem. You know that we worked it out for ourselves unless it was a major illness or national catastrophe, and we knew how to work it out because we had practice doing just that. National Columnist David Brooks noted in an essay in June 2011 that this generation’s graduates’ “lives have been perversely structured. They are the members of the most supervised generation in American history.”

We might not agree with Brooks’ assertion; but we must certainly agree that graduates now have less experience in addressing or handling obstacles than you and I did at their age.

What that means is that they experience frustration, stress, and anxiety when even somewhat small bumps block their paths. So we need your help. Sometime during this summer, your college-age student might come to you with a problem, with a question, with an issue that he or she has not resolved.

Instead of saying, “Oh, I’ll take care of that for you,” perhaps you can respond, “What do you think? What do you believe the best way to resolve this might be?” An answer of this kind demonstrates your confidence in them to solve their own problems, and it gives them some practice in doing so.

Jones, Gloria

Trust them. Most of the time, your child will rise to your level of trust.

Gloria Jones

Now the advice:

1. Think about setting up a time for a weekly or bi-weekly chat. Your students will have more to tell you – and you them – if you don’t talk to them several times a day, and they do need some “adjustment” time. Believe me, they will call you if they need anything – particularly money.

2. Encourage them to get involved – to join organizations, to become active on campus. Most colleges have lots of organizations. At Winthrop, we have some 150 organizations your student can join – academic, creative, political, religious, leadership, discipline specific. Statistics tell us that involved students are more likely to be successful than non-involved students. Equally important is the fact that the education they receive here should be more than just intellectual.

3. Encourage them to stay on campus some weekends. While it’s quite easy for S.C. students to go home every weekend, they should not. Many colleges hold programs on the weekend. At Winthrop, our programming board has won more awards than I can count, and there are always things going on.

4. Trust them. Most of the time, your child will rise to your level of trust. Many kids have to try out their new freedom – stay up too late, skip class, not do their assigned work; but the majority of them discover quickly that there are consequences for their behavior. And isn’t this one of the most valuable lessons they can learn?

5. Encourage them to take a variety of courses. Very few 18 year olds know what they want to do with their lives. I changed my major four times. And remember, they have to get up and go to the job they choose. Even if we believe that security and practicality should dictate a particular major, our children may not be well-suited to fulfill our dreams. Most colleges have some career counseling and career services, as well as academic advisors who will take time to confer with your students.

6. Stay involved – but from a distance. Consider reading your college’s common book. At Winthrop, the Common Book that all our freshmen will be reading – Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle – a book that reinforces our Global Learning Initiative and discusses homelessness, poverty, education, and rising above adversity.

7. And last, but surely not least, listen lovingly. They will probably get homesick. They will probably report that they have the hardest writing teacher, the most unfair history teacher, the most difficult to understand foreign language teacher. Be supportive, but try to leave the helicopter in the hangar. They need this practice because they are indeed preparing for the rest of their lives.

As parents, we MUST let go and let them.

Gloria Jones, an English professor, has served at Winthrop in various roles for more than 25 years. She was previously chair of the Winthrop University English Department before becoming dean of the University College.