Parents Weekend: Dos and Don’ts of Visiting a Kid in College

The first time I visited one of my sons in college was both a wonderful and awkward experience. He was thrilled to see us (thank goodness) and I held back tears of joy at seeing him for the first time since drop off six weeks earlier.

But we were on new and unsteady ground. This was my first visit to his world and I was far from sure how to proceed.

19 Tips to Help You Plan the Best Parents Weekend on Campus
I loved see my son at college.

Do’s and Don’ts of Parents Weekend (and Anytime You Visit Your Kid in College)

DO show up bearing gifts. Nothing makes a parent more endearing than showing up with local treats, homemade goodies or fun and foolish items that can be shared with roommates or new friends up and down the hall.  

DON’T visit the actual dorm room or risk being overcome with the urge to straighten, clean and restore the surroundings to their move-in day condition. If you do, foolishly, visit the dorm room, stay away from the bathroom. Just a word to the wise.

DO use this face-to-face visit as a chance to tell your almost adult child how proud you are of the journey she has taken and the initiative she has shown. No child tires of hearing of their parent’s pride. For me this was a chance to say some of the heartfelt things that were swept away on a sea of tears at drop-off a few months earlier.

DON’T assume that everything is going perfectly well. College life is complex and as one of my kids put it, “a time of high highs and low lows.” It is all too common for college students to be swayed by other overpowering influence of social media into believing everyone else is managing their life better.

DO listen, without interruptions, to the challenges of academic life and the pressure of social life in college. This concentrated time, without the many distractions of home, is a chance to hear how your college student is really faring.

DON’T offer platitudes and say that everyone goes through this process of adjustment.

DO offer constructive advice, compassion and parental support. We are not here to help our kids solve their problems but rather to help them figure out their own solutions.

DON’T show up without a plan for spending time on campus. Your teen may think you will just “hang out.” You do not want to hang out in that dorm room.

DO plan something your family loves to do together, that reminds everyone of your shared interests and attachment. It can be movies, museums, special food, religious services or sporting or cultural events.

DON’T draw out the visit. It is always best to leave our kids before they tire of us and have them wanting us to return.

DO leave a little something when you go. A simple token like a note, a gift card to treat the roommates to a pizza or frozen yogurt, or a new pair of gloves will remind your child that he is loved long after you are on the interstate back home.

DO plan to attend an on campus event, show or game as it will give you a better sense of college life.

DON’T let your college student act like they are still in middle school and embarrassed that they have parents.

DO remember that this departure will sting a bit, too, as you drive away. This is not the big bad punch in the gut that drop off might have been, but walking away from those we love is never easy.

DON’T be unprepared for this goodbye.

DO let your college student know your expectation that she is to make the most of these four years, and should not squander the precious opportunity she is so fortunate to have been given.

DON’T use this as an opportunity to nag about not calling or spending too much money; there is time and phone calls for that later.

DO take selfies, okay, maybe just photos. Although it might make you feel like a tourist, these will give you many happy moments starting from the day after your visit.

DON’T let your kid make faces. Remind them that you put just a bit of effort into getting them to this moment and that all you are asking for is a nice photo in return.

About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

Read more posts by Grown and Flown

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates straight to your inbox.