by Ina Sivits Luhring
Mental Health, University Housing
After working with UNL students for almost 30 years, I have a consistent answer to this question based on the interactions I have had with students over those years. The most important thing that you can do to help your student be successful at UNL is to take the time to have a conversation with your student.
In this conversation (or maybe several smaller conversations) it is critically important for you as a parent(s) to once again communicate your values and expectations about what you believe to be important about the college experience. What do you want your student to use as guidelines when he or she makes decisions concerning alcohol, drugs, and high risk behaviors during their upcoming years at UNL?
Parents then typically say, "Do you have any idea how hard it is to talk about those things? My son or daughter just doesn't listen. He/she looks at the ceiling and rolls his/her eyes and looks bored." My answer, yes, I most certainly do know how hard it is to have this conversation! I have two teenagers, one of whom graduated from high school last year. I know THAT LOOK!
I've heard the responses, "Mom, you are always talking about this stuff - I'm old enough to make my own decisions." Even more importantly, I have worked with students closely after they arrive at UNL and find themselves having to make difficult decisions about off-campus parties where they know there will be alcohol available, about choosing new friends, and taking new risks. Every year I have students look at me and say, "My parents always said..."
What I have discovered, somewhat to my own surprise is that, despite a student's rolling eyes and look of great disgust, your son or daughter does listen to you. What you think and expect of your student is very important to him or her, but you can count on the fact that your student would never admit that to you any time before he/she has children of his/her own.
When your student is in a difficult situation and trying to make a decision while trying to assess what others will think of them, the majority of students mentally refer back to the benchmark established by their parents' values and expectations.
- Let your student know you believe he/she can and will make good decisions and wise choices, and that you will always be available to listen and talk.
- Ask your student (don't tell) how he/she would handle various situations such as their roommate inviting them to an illegal off-campus party, going into a risky situation where university policies or state laws may be broken, or being at an event where he/she may encounter drugs and alcohol. Ask questions and listen as your student shares with you how he/she will decide what to do in various situations.
- Remind your student that he/she will have resources immediately available to them in the residence halls and on campus. Resident Assistants, Residence Directors, Wellness Advocates, and a wealth of other approachable resources will be down the hall or accessible with a phone call.
- Support your student as he/she works out his or her own problems. Listen, support and guide, but let he/she learn the lessons of working through his or her own difficult situations and problems.