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Staying Connected to Your College Kids

Hearing the voices of family members (and even the barking of his devoted dog) can work wonders for your college boy. Phone conversations don't need to be intimate in content for you to pick up on how your son is feeling about his college life. Listen to the tone and volume of his voice, his pauses and hesitations — does he "sound like himself"? Some kids fear talking on the phone when things aren't going well because they have a parent like my mother, who could tell from my first sentence when I was in trouble. But I was always better off, as your child will be when his distress is heard and he gets the chance to unburden himself and to receive your loving support.

You might want to consider the merits of a regularly designated phone-call time (e.g., every Sunday night at 7 p.m.). Knowing that he can expect to hear from you at the same time on a regular basis will provide him with an emotional anchor, something good and kind and empathetic that will always comfort him, no matter how much uncertainty and distress he is feeling. He can also look forward regularly to sharing his joys and accomplishments and hearing his family's animated responses. There's a reason why the telephone ad campaign, "Reach out and touch someone" resonated with the public. We are touched in a unique way by the sound of the human voice. One of my college friends coined an apt term for weekly family phone calls: booster shots.

We're Here!

As the song says, "Ain't nothing like the real thing." And nothing tops connecting with your college student in person. Visiting your kids involves money and time considerations for all but the wealthy and those living in close proximity to their children's colleges. Most college students I've known have welcomed family visits, beyond the obligatory annual "parents' weekend" visit planned by the college. Make sure that you give your child as much advance notice as possible. Surprise visits are rarely a good idea and can sometimes be embarrassing and disappointing. Parents bearing their children's favorite foods are especially welcome.

Don't take it personally if your student can't match your proposed visiting dates with her availability. Instead, be pleased that her academic, social, and extracurricular obligations are providing her with a full, rich collegiate life. What is most important to her is the knowledge that you are eager to see her. If your respective schedules allow for visits to occur, all the better. And remember there are holiday and semester breaks that will usually bring your children home to you.

Why Aren't You in the Library More?

Whether it's through emails, letters, phone calls, or college visits, it's what and how you communicate to your kids that determines how well you stay connected. Unconditional love, support, and understanding should underscore all your communications. Don't use your communications primarily as opportunities to grill your kids: How much time are you spending studying in the library? How much sleep are you getting on weekdays? Are you drinking or doing drugs? Why haven't you written your grandmother more?

There are ways to get a feel for how your child is faring in school — academically, socially, and emotionally — without repeatedly putting her through "The Inquisition" when you contact her. Open-ended questions that show an interest in his life — "Is introductory biology as tough as you expected?" "How's the roommate situation?" "Have you had much time to have a social life, given your studies and playing football?" — are always better than questions and comments with built-in expectations, blame, and guilt: "You do remember the GPA you have to maintain to keep your scholarship, don't you?" "How can you get any studying done in this room?" "We'd appreciate some idea of whether you're passing or flunking your courses!"

You have means at your disposal to maintain and even deepen your relationship with your college kids. Explore them all and you'll soon discover a comfortable, varied communication rhythm and frequency to keep you connected.

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