Letter to a Parent of a College Student
Dear parents of college students:
This fall is significant to me in two ways in that it is the first fall in twenty-two years that I will not be welcoming college students to campus as a campus minister and because, after all those years of walking among other people’s kids, my own daughter is now a college freshman. So, could I share with all us parents some crucial things we should all bear in mind?
Here we go:
1. Very few students enter college with a fully formed worldview; very few leave college without one. Please allow that to soak in.
2. I would argue that choosing a career path, choosing our closest friends, choosing a spouse, and choosing a worldview are the four most crucial decisions of a person’s life (faith falls under the category of worldview). For many people, all these decisions are usually made during the college years.
3. Because these years will form such a powerful season of direction-setting and transformation, the question isn’t whether students will change during college; the question is how and through whom.
4. Often, the largest factor determining the kind of people they’ll become during this immensely transformative season are their closest friends (this, of course, includes people they date). They should choose wisely.
5. College students naturally seek mentors. Whether a professor, administrator, boss, or campus minister, the worldview of their most influential mentor will often become their worldview as well. Again, they should choose very carefully.
6. Whichever group they connect with the first two or three weeks of school will likely be the group they’ll be primarily affiliated with for the rest of their time in college.
7. If you expect them to live for the Lord during college, please encourage and assist them in getting active with a strong campus ministry. This will be the most important factor regarding whether they live out their faith during college.
8. Please do not minimize your influence in their lives. They should absolutely know your moral and ethical expectations for them as college students. If you are ignoring or even empowering them as they sow their wild oats, assuming that’s just what college students are going to do, please allow me to humbly suggest that you’re making a terrible mistake.
9. If you are prepared to ask hard questions and to even take drastic action regarding such things as grades, physical security, or living accommodations, it is important to also be willing to ask hard questions and even intervene regarding their life of faith.
10. On the other hand, whenever they encounter a struggle that will naturally arise when they’re on their own for the first time, please resist the temptation to swoop in to rescue them. If, for instance, they are not getting along with a roommate or believe a professor is being unfair, please do not save them. Instead, give them tools and suggestions, then force them to deal with it themselves.
In summary, parents, I ask you to bear in mind that the college years represent an incredibly transformative season of life during which the most crucial life decisions are made.
It is imperative that you recognize this and strive to navigate this season with appropriate respect for its potential impact on the rest of your child’s life.
On one hand, that means resisting the temptation to hover, to be overly protective, or to rush in to solve their problems. On the other hand, it means becoming an active and substantive conversation partner with your college student.
It means not being satisfied just with conversations about getting along with the roommate or the quality of the cafeteria food. Instead, I urge you to stay informed about the details of what they are learning, asking specific questions about the four major decision categories, and actively listening and responding with appropriate support, encouragement or concern.