HomeHealth & BehaviorEmotional Well-Being

Ask the Experts

How Can I Help My Son Adjust to College?

By Karen Levin Coburn


My son is going to college this fall, his first time away from home and on his own. My biggest concern is that he will not focus without his mother and me pushing him. How about some pointers to help him be successful without interfering with his freedom?


Though it may be tempting to try to tell your son all of the things you fear you haven't emphasized enough over the past 18 years, lectures just won't work. He's likely to roll his eyes and shut his ears if you start to lecture. Have faith in the job you have done as a parent. You have been teaching him step-by-step from the earliest days - from learning to share toys to keeping track of homework assignments to managing his allowance. This is just one more step - though a big one on his journey to independence.

So what can you do now?

  • Help him set up a financial system. Draw up a tentative budget and talk about responsible use of credit cards.
  • Talk about how you will keep in touch.
  • Reassure him that you have faith in him.
  • Make arrangements for continuity of care if your son has any chronic illnesses or is on medication.
  • Read the parents' handbook and become familiar with the college's Web site.
  • Learn about the resources at your son's school so you can coach him as the semester progresses to use the resources at hand - whether it's for academic help, counseling or career advice.

Karen Levin Coburn is the assistant vice chancellor for students and associate dean for freshman transition at Washington University. She is also the coauthor of Letting Go: A Parents' Guide to Understanding the College Years.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from readers

"oh my. if you are truly worried that your son will not focus without anyone pushing him, he should not be in college. college is not a place for students with no internal drive. there are too many distractions and no one there to hold them accountable. too many US students are pushed to college when they are not yet ready, and they end up either dropping out or coasting along and getting a worthless degree. it is even worse when the kids have their parents or the government footing the bill because they have no investment in their education. it may be better for him in the long run to work a while and set some goals for himself independent of his parents. putting off college for a while to gain perspective and direction is a sign of maturity and not a sign of failure."
"How can I help my son.? My son was born in MD 15 years ago(full U.S. citizen ). We moved back to Thailand after he was 2 years old in 1994 ,now he is 15 years old and comes back to his home country as an exchange student for 1 year under the U.S.State Department programe living with American hosted mom in Columbia,SC .He finished grade 9 with GPA 3.94 from the best oldest school in Bangkok last year. His IQ score is 120 when he was 14 years .Now he is studying in grade 11( the youngest one in class)at Mid Carolina High school,Prosperity,SC. He would like to stay longer in the U.S. and further his study as a young American to be one of the best engineer in your country. I (as a farther )has a permanent job (Navy captain)and his Mom has a job as a teacher ( assistant Professor)in Bangkok Thailand .We can not live in The U.S and help him in term of college tuition. How can we or the U.S. goverment/ American people can help or fullfill his dream ? He can be beneficial to your country in the future.He w! ants to work at NASA as an aeronautical engineer as he told me ."
"I am currently a student at SMU and found this site that helps students adjust to a new enviornment. I can find the closest doctor, restaurant, bookstore, or whatever i need quickly online or on my cell phone. They have over 350 different college sites dedicated to individual schools. THought this could help with students adjusting to college but not sure how much it will help out parents. maybe just ease their nerves a little bit. "