What’s Happening? Your teenager has just graduated from school to university after and exhausting final year. It’s a time which is tiring, exciting and scary all at once. And not just for the teenagers! 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:

  • Take more responsibility for themselves
  • Work out who they are and where they fit in the world
  • Try to join the workforce or study for a future career
  • Develop more mature intimate relationships
  • Separate from parents as the first point of call for support and approval.
  • So your first year uni student will be testing out new ways of being and will be exposed to may 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 to the students sometimes 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 normal, 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, especially when you may be fully supporting them financially! Now however, 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 into the next stage of relating as equal adults.

    What Helps?

    Taking tightrope walking lessons. It can sometimes feel like that‘s what you need! 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 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 skills or familiarity.

    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 for you or you start to worry there are people and places to help you and the 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 behavior 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 Student Support Services. You local GP’s, Counsellors, Community Health centres or Mental Health Clinics can also be helpful.

    Some Useful University Contacts

    • Counselling Service: 03 8344 6927
    • Health Service: 03 8344 6904
    • Student Services (housing, financial aid, employment): 13 MELB (13 6352)
    • Academic Skills: 13 MELB (13 6352)
    • Chaplains: 8344 7566
    • Disability Liaison: 8344 0836
    • Careers and Employment: 8344 0100

    Once you’ve mastered the tightrope, you need to learn the trapeze! This is also a time of letting go and reconnecting, flying high and taking risks-for your uni student and for you.

    Authorised by the Academic Registrar: The information in this publication was correct at the time of printing. The university reserves the right to make changes as appropriate.