Parents and families of new college-aged students are currently in major readiness mode, purchasing items to outfit the dorms and finalizing plans to drop their children off at school.
It is a natural state for parents, who have been in the care zone for 18 years. From finding the perfect preschool, to enrolling their children in football leagues and enrichment programs, to guiding the college application process, everything is done for this. new phase of parenthood.
It’s a huge transition for students and parents alike. Tim Davis, clinical psychologist and assistant professor of public policy at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia, is here to help.
Davis is an expert in resilience and teaches a course called âThe Resilient Student: Transition, Growth and Leadershipâ. (Parents, there is still plenty of space for your student to enroll.)
He is also helping run an executive training and lifelong learning program called âBattenXâ and will lead a session called âCoaching for Excellence: Bringing Out the Best in Othersâ in Arlington in November.
Davis has been speaking to parents at UVA orientation sessions since 2017, offering his expert advice on how guardians can successfully transition to the new phase of college their families are facing.
Because orientation sessions are live this summer, UVA Today asked Davis if he could share some of his expertise here. Read on for six of his top tips, in his own words and in no particular order.
Give your child permission to wrestle
The advantage and the challenge with UVA families is that they tend to be high performing groups of people. Sometimes their students come in and if they feel like they’re struggling at all then they feel like they don’t belong to UVA because they’ve seen so many successes modeled in their lives. It is really important to tell your student that it is okay to fail, to have a bad mark here and there, not to be elected to the position you wanted.
We know, based on science, that students need to have a prior amount of adversity during their four years in college in order to develop optimal mental health. Without these struggles, without adversity, they cannot become the highly functional and resilient young adults we want them to become. It is important to give them permission, even to help them struggle a bit, to normalize this in the conversation and remind them that it is in fact essential that they meet adversity and that they fight it, is important.
This is when they develop new aptitudes, new skills, new neural networks which in my opinion as a clinical psychologist will be the most important thing they will walk around the lawn with, when they have this ceiling: a newly connected brain.
Manage your contact frequency
Daily contact with your student is too frequent, and texts count.
From a developmental perspective, at this point in students’ lives, their main job is to individualize and separate from their families. And parents, while very well-meaning, often somehow bypass their child’s ability to do this job by having too much contact.
Parents need to know that the best thing for their students – even if they may not know it – is to have the space to find their own pockets of support and guidance and to be allowed to think about certain things. their own solutions to problems and build their own nest, emotionally and socially, outside the family context.
Don’t do anything for your students, they can do it for themselves
Again, if you look at what they are supposed to be doing developmentally at this point in their lives, it’s time for parents to stop worrying about their issues and start being good listeners. Offer advice only when they’re out of ideas or in a real crisis – not mini-crises. Students must manage them themselves. Just be careful not to do anything for them that they can do for themselves.
Have them put some skin in the game
One of the ways we raise responsible and accountable young adults is by not giving them everything.
Even if you’re lucky enough to come from a background where you don’t have a lot of financial worries and can afford to cover everything for your child, I think it’s really important to get them to put in a bit. skin in the game by making them pay, for example, at least part of their expenses, whether it is their rent or their books or whatever. The monetary amount is really not that important. This is the idea that they will learn to value more what you give them if they are asked to be responsible for paying part of it.
I’m going to give you an example. We put our 12 year old daughter on our phone plan and asked her to contribute $ 10 per month. It’s not that $ 10 a month makes or breaks our budget. It’s just really important that she understands that things cost money and that she’ll appreciate being as privileged as she is if she has a little skin in the game.
Praise their behaviors, not their features
We have learned a lot about the self-esteem movement. It was a complete flop in the 1970s and 1980s, when we thought that telling young people how good they were or how smart they were, or how talented they were, improved their self-esteem.
What we actually found was that it had a deteriorating effect on self-esteem. When we praise them for being smart, talented, or athletic or whatever those grandiose words are, it actually stopped them dead in their tracks. And that’s because this approach creates the belief system that they think they were either born with this wonder or they were not born with. And what they are born with is not in their control. What their genetic makeup is is not in their control.
What is under their control is the way they behave; what strategies they use; how hard they work, how ready they are to step out of their comfort zone; how many hours they spent preparing for an exam.
We now know that when we give our students feedback on their behavior – rather than their character traits – it improves their self-esteem and makes them more effective. We can even measure it in cognitive ability tests. For example, an intervention, telling a student how hard he worked for an exam, predicts better performance on the next exam than telling him how smart he is. So be careful to praise behaviors and not traits.
Encourage their life outside of the classroom
I think this one is really important. It is also the one with which I end the conversation with the parents during the orientation.
Encourage the life of your students outside of the classroom. I advise parents not to send their student to UVA to learn a particular type of content. You send them here to learn how to be successful, emotionally and socially well-adjusted, successful adults.
Of course, they come out with new expertise acquired in the classroom. But what really makes a difference is what happens to them outside of the classroom. This is when they really develop the skills to become competent and successful adults. Because we know that 70% of undergraduates are not working in the field related to their college major. So even though they will leave here with very important literary knowledge and professional skills – and we want to and this is important – encouraging their life outside the classroom is also supported by developmental science. young adults, because we know that students who have noticeably stronger social support networks and have more experience of social belonging in college, these things predict good grade points and they predict happiness.
So if you really want your kids to be academically successful in the classroom, it starts in many ways. outside the classroom. It starts with their engagement in activities, organizations and communities that give them a sense of social support and belonging here. And that’s fundamental, and then they develop success in their careers.