10 Tips for Dealing With Parents

College is where you learn responsibility. Here's how Mom and Dad can help.

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One of the most exciting things about starting college is finally being able to make your own decisions—no family rules to heed or break. But then it turns out that being responsible means you're the only one to blame when things go wrong, and suddenly independence doesn't seem all that great. This week, visiting blogger Marjorie Savage, parent program director at the University of Minnesota and author of You're on Your Own (But I'm Here If You Need Me) offers 10 tips for college students as they figure out a new relationship with their family:

1. Keep in touch. With all the technology out there—E-mail, texting, Skype, Facebook, Twitter—your parents don't just have the tools to talk to you every day, they can even see you. And if they paid for your phone and laptop, they probably expect you to use those gifts to contact them at least occasionally. Texting and E-mailing are ideal for checking in quickly without facing a lengthy conversation. The once-a-week or twice-a-month phone calls, though, are helpful for keeping up with what's happening at home and letting your parents know you're still thinking about them.

2. Set the rules. If you "friend" your parents on Facebook, Twitter, or some other site, they will not feel like they need to hear from you as often. And a positive outcome of friending your parents is that you are less likely to carelessly post something you will later regret. Of course, that also means they can see all the photos and updates that your friends see. It's OK to work out ground rules, like "I don't mind you reading my page, but no messages on my wall, and don't ever tag me in a family photo."

3. Combat homesickness. Almost everyone gets homesick at some point. It might not even be your mother or father that you miss most: There's just something to be said for your own bed, the family dog, a fully stocked refrigerator, and people who know your name without having to look at the sign on your door. But no matter how tempted you are to head home for the weekend—or drop out completely—remember that college is what you've been waiting for. Open a book, talk to the kid across the hall, or check out one of those student organizations everyone is talking about. If you keep busy, you won't have time to be homesick.

4. Give 'em a heads-up. Eventually you will go home, maybe for your high school homecoming or a holiday. Before you go, tell your parents if there's anything new and different about you. The worst time to announce that you're now a vegetarian is when your mother is carving the Thanksgiving turkey. And ask your family if anything has changed at home. You should get fair warning if your bedroom is now your dad's office or the new guest room.

5. Strut your stuff. You have the power to withhold your academic records from your parents: As a college student, your records belong to you, and you get to decide who can see them. Don't overplay this card, though. You'll probably be happy to show them your A's, but even if your grades are not what you hoped, it makes sense to tell your family and let them know what you're doing about it. If your parents are paying some or all of your expenses, they deserve to know how you're using their investment.

6. Don't bite the hand that feeds you. Another point about money: You will have the power to make decisions that could affect your parents' finance. If you sign a lease for a luxury apartment, lose your "good student auto insurance discount" because you failed a class, or initiate immediate student loan repayment by dropping too many classes, someone is going to have to pay. Think before you act, and talk to your parents about potential pitfalls.

7. Take responsibility for the little problems. If you don't get along with your roommate or if you overspent your budget, it's not your parents' fault. You can tell them what's bothering you, but assure them that you can handle things—and then do just that. If you show them you can take care of the small problems, they will trust you to take increasing responsibility.

8. But deal your parents in on the big ones. If you find yourself in serious trouble, tell your parents what happened. If possible, have some ideas in mind for what you can do about it. And consider how you can avoid the same problem in the future. Never ask or allow your parents to contact a professor, an administrator, or the judicial affairs officer about your bad grades or bad behavior. Colleges actually provide the most supportive atmosphere you're ever going to find for solving problems, and threatening to have your parents sue the college or call the provost is not going to help your case.

9. Find your own way. Respect your family's values, but be willing to explore your own. In college, you will probably meet people with very different politics, religious practices, and sexual experiences than yours, and you may find that they're your greatest friends. Parents don't always like it when their children change or challenge the family beliefs. Reassure your family that you respect the way you were raised but tell them that you are at a point where you need to examine how the beliefs you were taught fit into your own life experiences. That's how your values become your own.

10. Give thanks. Every now and then, tell your parents you appreciate them. Be bold—say, "I love you." They need to hear that sometimes.

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