University is different from school and a new University student will be different from the Year 12 school student you recently knew so well!

Whether you went to university yourself or not, it's difficult to imagine what it's like for your student. Sometimes your imagination can make you uneasy!

It's often hard to step back and let the student take full responsibility for their learning and their adjustment to this next stage in their life, especially when you may be fully supporting them financially!! However, now is the time to have confidence in the good work you have already done as a parent and give them the opportunity to develop responsibly.

It's normal for first year university students to test out new ways of being and they will be exposed to many new ideas, opportunities, people, experiences and ways of life. However, if you notice things aren't going well or you start to worry, please feel free to call Counselling and Psychological Services.

Our service is confidential, so we do not disclose information about attendance or the content of discussions.

For more information on this area, please read below. We also have a downloadable brochure entitled Tips for Parents of First Year University Students (PDF 170kb).

What's happening?

Your child may have recently graduated from school to university after an exhausting final year. It's a time which is tiring, exciting and scary all at once. And not just for the young people!

Uni is different from school. It's much bigger for a start, there is less structure and a great deal of responsibility is handed to the students for their academic work, way of life, health, safety and recreation.

This coincides with the late adolescent stage of development in which all young people have to:

So your first year uni student will be testing out new ways of being, and will be exposed to many new ideas, opportunities, people, experiences and ways of life. The extent to which a student tries out new ways is very individual, but it is normal to experiment.

Letting go

Schools provide many opportunities for parents to be involved and work in partnership in educating their children. There are lots of occasions when you can share experiences with your adolescents and other families. Many of you will miss this close connection now that they are uni students.

So much is unknown to you about their daily environment. You don't know the staff, you don't know if anyone is monitoring their progress and watching out for them. Whether you went to university yourself or not, it's difficult to imagine what it's like now. And sometimes your imagination can make you uneasy.

At university it seems to parents, and sometimes to the students, that there is a lot of spare time that is spent not doing much. "Shouldn't you be studying or in the library or something?" Parents get very anxious about what seems like little action: sleeping in, missing classes, just hanging around the university, late nights, exposure to alcohol and other drugs.

Disagreements happen. It's all necessary, but can be scary for all involved.

It's hard sometimes to step back and let the students take full responsibility for their learning and their adjustment to this next stage in their life. However, now is the time to have confidence in the good work you have done as parents and give them the opportunity to fly (though there will be the inevitable crashes!) It's a learning experience for all, but vital in enabling you, and them, to move onto the next stage of relating as equal adults.

What helps?

It can sometimes feel like you need tightrope walking lessons! There is no secret formula for this process. What helps is a balance between being interested, supportive and caring on the one hand, and leaving them alone, trusting and giving space on the other. It's OK to be curious or concerned, but try not to be intrusive or blaming.

You will need to use your best communication skills - like listening, asking open questions, checking out, respecting their point of view and giving positive feedback. All this even if your uni student doesn't reply with similar levels of skill and fairness.

Don't be too upset if they don't want to spend much time with the family. Many uni students see dependence as negative and strive for independence, so take full advantage of any time they do want to spend with you. The most important thing is to be there for them. Your uni student still needs to feel connected and valued in the family.

If you notice things aren't going right, or you start to worry, there are people and places to help you and your student.

Because this is a very big transition time for all of you, it's often hard to work out what's normal and what's not. If moods or behaviours seem more serious, extreme or get beyond your comfort or tolerance levels, it's best to seek advice.

Talking to your uni student about what you see and what you are concerned about, and asking their opinion on what you've noticed, is important.

You are welcome to consult with any of the university support services. Your local GPs, Counsellors, Community Health Centres or Mental Health Clinics can also be helpful.