MU has resources to help parents make the leap to an empty nest

Thursday, July 30, 2009 | 12:00 p.m. CDT; updated 12:45 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 30, 2009

Note to parents: Life can change dramatically after a child flies from the nest and heads off to college.

Karen Levin Coburn, co-author of "Letting Go: A Parent's Guide to Understanding the College Years," talks about the need to appreciate a child's ''four I's'': independence, intimacy, identity and intellectual development.

She suggests that parents should see themselves as coaches for their children, available to share advice and wisdom when asked but pointing them toward support services on the campus as much as possible rather than offering to solve every problem.

Beth and Tom Vlodek were concerned at a Summer Welcome session this summer about their son becoming acclimated to a large campus after attending small private schools.

Here are a few initiatives run by the university that could put the Vlodeks' and others' minds at ease:

Involvement with Partners in Prevention – This coalition focuses on preventing high-risk drinking among Missouri’s college students through change agents who have support materials, thorough training and an extensive communication network.

Office of Parent Relations — Parents can sign up for notifications under the "stay informed" section of the parent relations Web site, which sends alerts in the event of a campus-wide emergency. The office also has an abundance of information addressing the transition to college.

Counseling services — MU has an intensive counseling program to help students with issues like relationships, exam stress, self-esteem, anxiety, substance abuse and depression.

MU Parents Association — This facilitates communication with staff and key administrators on campus without overwhelming your child.

• Family weekend — This event, Sept. 11-13,  is designed to let parents reconnect with a child at MU and make sure the student is on the right track, as well as attend a number of Tiger activities.

Kathy Vasel, mom to a new freshman, said she wants her son to do well academically and socially. She became more confident about her son’s success after he joined a Freshman Interest Group (FIG).

Jeff Wiese, coordinator for Mizzou FIGs, believes the program “helps students make a successful transition to Mizzou.” Parents should feel reassured knowing a son or daughter is connecting with a peer group of 15 to 20 students, he said.

“These students live together in their residence hall and are co-enrolled in four courses together," Wiese said.

One of these courses, FIG proseminar, is designed to cover the subject of student study, as well as college adjustment topics such as time management, study skills, second semester registration, diversity and ethics.

Through FIGs, students will have an already organized study group with the same goals and ambitions. They also get an upperclassman peer adviser who serves as “a good academic role model to the students,” Wiese said.

FIGs provide the opportunity for students to try a particular major. Wiese said students in FIGs get to “connect with a faculty or staff member in their academic area as well as other students in that major."

Wiese concluded by saying that assessment has shown that students in FIGs benefit from a higher GPA and retention rate after their first year, in addition to higher four-year and six-year graduation rates than students who do not participate in the FIGs program.

An information session for parents of FIG students is to be held at 1:30, 3, and 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 18 in Bush Auditorium, Cornell Hall.

The associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the director of Residential Life, and Wiese will talk with parents about the benefits of the program and give them more information about FIG activities.

Another worry for parents may be alcohol and drug use on campus. Before a child leaves for college, counselors advise sharing expectations for their behavior, class attendance and grades. Communication is the key to a successful relationship with a college child, they said.

Scare tactics are not effective. What may be more successful is talking about what an alcohol- or drug-related conviction can mean for their future professional life.

The last piece of advice is to respect your son or daughter as a young adult, advisers say.

Let them go, don’t become a hovering “helicopter parent” and trust that they will do the right thing.

Do not fear losing aspects of your relationship and understand that it is a growth period that could enhance the relationship. Communication remains the key.

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