This one's for the parents and the students. And for the educators helping to facilitate a strong transition from high school to college. So, I guess it's for all of you navigating the joys and challenges that communication can offer.

STUDENTS: You eye-roll with your parents on occasion, right? There are times when their expert advice-giving becomes burdensome and frankly you just don't want to hear it. But they have been around the block a time or two, and we guarantee there is some wisdom there. It doesn't mean they should be making your decisions, phone calls, and connections on your behalf, but their ideas and opinions do count. Striking a balance here is most important. Really, it's probably time you set your own alarm and made your own lunch, right (please tell me I'm right...)? Just a friendly reminder, but THEY ARE NOT GOING TO BE THERE ALL OF THE TIME IN COLLEGE! And, we know you are certainly on your way to becoming a productive, happy citizen of the world. So dear citizens, consider the following questions:

  • What information do your parents have that is critical for you as you become a college student?
  • Which behaviors and skills are they encouraging in you? Think of the things they've been harping on, complaining about, reminding you toward. Is there something they say every day to you?! Name three things that seem important to them (even if you may not agree).
  • Circle the one skill that you really do need to work on and clearly state how you can become more independent in it. What will you do?

PARENTS: It's scary. You love this kid, and so desire their success. Sometimes you can see what's coming, and if your student would just...but they didn't...and then the consequences... And soon you may be contributing a large sum of money to this higher ed experiment. Here are some questions we'd love for you to go over with a partner, trusted friend, coach/counselor, or educator:

  • How can you start to balance the letting go of the student?
  • How will you handle their mess-ups, and their successes?
  • What does it mean to step back, and when should you jump in? What is the right way to do so?
  • What skills, behaviors, knowledge does your student absolutely need right now? What isn't as important?


To make communication work clearly for both student and parent, create a communication plan to use together. You will need one when your student is in college as college departments will have restrictions in how they communicate with parents due to FERPA. But more importantly, having a clear plan directly with the student may limit potential frustrations and miscommunication. On the flip side, it's likely to strengthen your connection. Following are questions to aid you in creating your plan.

  • When is the best time to check in? Critical to consider if the student is living off campus or at home. We recommend you start your communication plans during high school so it's already an established partnership.
  • When do you both (student/parent or guide) tend to feel good? When can a productive connection best happen?
  • How do you know what you want to say? What does it mean to listen?
  • What patterns are you each noticing as the student experiences higher education? Which patterns/choices have led to desired outcomes? Which have provided challenges?
  • What structure works best? Here are a few scenarios to get your ideas moving:
    • Saturday morning pancake breakfasts during senior year: Meet every other Saturday morning. Take turns answering the questions above about what's working and what is not working. What does each person desire? How will you get to the desired outcome?
    • Sunday evening phone calls during freshman year of college. Connect by phone for an hour or so. Do critical check ins: Student, did you attend all of your classes, what do you need, and who at your college will help you?
  • Next steps: Identify where/how you, student, will move forward. What change will you make? What is working that you will keep doing? Who will help (this may be a great time to enlist support other than parents).

This can be rough, rocky, vulnerable, and also clarifying and powerful. You may have to navigate creatively if your student has disability-related communication challenges. We'd love for you to share your structures and connections that work for you below or in a message to us!

Computer, coffee cup and notebook on a table- all great tools for a fabulous communication plan. Photo credit Viktor Hanacek.

Computer, coffee cup and notebook on a table- all great tools for a fabulous communication plan. Photo credit Viktor Hanacek.