Yes, College Students Should Solve Their Own Problems (But Not Always).

Allow your student to own their problems. To some of you, this may sound obvious, but it is one of the most common mistakes I see parents, family and mentors make: 

Perhaps the hardest part of your child entering into adulthood is the shift from at home parenting to more of an advising/coaching role. Difficult as it might be, it is a necessary shift in order to support them into adulthood, and frankly, it’s also the best way to continue to have influence in their life.

So if they share a problem they’re having, what should you do?

  1. Ask open-ended questions. This will get the conversation going and help you understand the root of the problem. The right questions can also help the student check their own values and internal motivations. I call this, “reducing the noise.” These days there are so many external voices and standards for comparison that the student loses sight of what’s important to them. Remember, the goal of the conversation is to help the student come to their own decision about what to do next. Sometimes they won’t come to any decisions initially, that’s ok, it’s a process.
  2. Share, but not too much. If they ask for your advice then feel free to give it, otherwise, make the focus about them and not about all of your personal experiences. Overshare can often fall flat and may not be relevant to them. Remember, avoid the “telling” voice. This is an instinctive go-to for the parent, because for so many years you directed your child, gave them the answer and stood up for them. In many cases, rightfully so! But now, this voice will diminish your influence and your student will be less likely to share with you what is going on in their lives now and in the future. If you are reading this and are still high school parent, start doing this before your student goes off to college! The transition will be easier and they will be more prepared to take control.
  3. Repeat, summarize & make a plan. Again, you’re not making the decision for them, but you can repeat/summarize what you’ve heard them say. Especially, if you heard them say something you think is a great idea, be sure to repeat it back to them! When the conversation is coming to a close, summarize what you’ve heard and how they’ve identified they would like to move forward. Then schedule a time to talk again in the near future, so they can share an update. If they did not identify next steps, still ask to speak again in the near future to continue the conversation. Repeat steps 1-3.

There are (of course) exceptions:

There are times when you will be able to tell your student needs intervention beyond your ability. You know them best and if you hear something in their voice or their behavior is very unusual, you should certainly call the college if you are not able to figure it out. The best place to start would be the dean of students office/student life office or perhaps the office of residence life.

No matter who is called, there is an information chain that is set in place and the appropriate person will be notified and help set into motion. College professionals are experienced in dealing with a wide array of concerns. Common concerns I receive calls about are related to mental health, lack of social connection, disciplinary processes and substance abuse. For after hours calls, campus safety/campus security is a safe bet to locate the appropriate resource. There are several campus resources that will have 24/7 response.

* I don’t recommend calling a student employee like the RA directly (even if you happen to have their mobile number). Depending on the concern, they may not be the best resource and may not relay the information up to their supervisor.

Additionally, there are times when your student may need your support in navigating a difficult disciplinary process or Title IX complaint for example. The college will have resources like a Title IX Coordinator or Sexual Assault Response Coordinator that can answer questions for you to help support your student. Whatever the challenge is,  express your confidence in their ability, let them know you are there for them and allow them to take the lead.

If you would like coaching on this topic please feel free to contact me. 

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