Colleges Ease Parental Anxiety With Special Orientation Programs

By Rebecca Strong
Posted July 07, 2014 11:00 AM

Colleges are easing parental anxiety with special orientation programs.
Colleges are easing parental anxiety with special orientation programs.

For college freshman, orientation offers a golden opportunity to get acquainted with campus life, make friends and settle in before classes start. It's a time-honored tradition that helps ease the transition for students - but apparently, they're not the only ones that struggle with the adjustment. Many mothers and fathers find it just as challenging to deal with the dramatic move, which is why a number of schools now provide orientation programs specifically for parents.

Potential Peace of Mind

Parental participation in the college-age student's life is nothing new. In fact, this trend has continued to rise in recent years, paving the way for terms like "helicopter parents" or their more aggressive counterparts, "snowplow parents." Before freshman even arrive at their dorm rooms, many parents are plagued with concerns about campus safety, financial aid or dining options. Parental orientation programs give them deeper insight into these details, and putting their worries to rest means parents are less likely to hover over their child on a daily basis. Thus, freshman are free to acclimate to college life more quickly and effectively.

These parent orientation programs may have taken time to gain traction, but in recent years they have exponentially expanded in popularity. In fact, according to a survey of more than 200 U.S. institutions by the National Orientation Directors Association, these special initiatives are offered by more than 90% of schools nationwide, and attendance has reached an impressive range of 80 to 90%. The programs can range from two to five days, and may include social mixers, tours, motivational speakers and even on-campus meals.

Diverse Philosophies

Each school has a unique method for these programs. American University's website indicates that the schedule includes a session called "Late Night Calls: Helping You Help Your Student," which covers issues like hazing, mental illness and substance abuse, and the role parents can play in them. The university also offers a faculty coffee hour, which gives parents a chance to talk one-on-one with staff about learning initiatives, textbooks and academic curricula.

Northern Michigan University also takes an in-depth approach. The school's website notes that their program gives attendees a chance to connect with other parents in their geographic area, as well as take a tour of all facilities and participate in a Q&A with the director of housing and residence life.

Boston College has taken a more intensive approach, with a three-day program that is designed to avoid over-involvement on the part of parents. BC's orientation program director Rev. Joseph Marchese told The Boston Globe that a lot of parents are living vicariously through their children. For this reason, the institution's events are aimed at basically telling parents to stay at arm's length - that means no excessive texting, calling or keeping tabs on their kid's Facebook profile.

"Your kids, over the next four years, need you to be there for them and listen to them - not to judge them," motivational speaker Norm Bossio told attendees, according to The Boston Globe. "You've worked hard to get here. Don't wreck this by being a nervous wreck."

While the main message of many of these programs is to give freshman their space, some institutions are encouraging parents to stay involved in their children's lives. For example, Andrew Flagel, senior vice president for students and enrollment at Brandeis University, explained to The Boston Globe that the school's stance has shifted from telling parents to let go as quickly as possible to touting the benefits of keeping up close communication. In fact, he asserted that forcing parents to back off can actually be counterproductive.

Thus far, the response to these programs has been overwhelmingly positive. Parent testimonials on the University of Colorado Boulder website called the orientation "informative," "helpful," and "phenomenal." Overall, it seems that institutions offering these sessions can alleviate unnecessary stress while also giving parents confidence that their children are in good hands.

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