How to deal with changes in your college student


This is an exciting time for your student. College will inevitably change them in a variety of ways that help them get closer to achieving their potential. These changes might be long overdue, welcome changes, such as an increased sense of responsibility. Or they could be drastic changes that leave you scratching your head and wondering, “Who is this kid?”

We spoke with Cindi Farmer, mother of four daughters who all attended college, to get her advice. Having four daughters whom have been to college (the youngest is in her senior year) gave me plenty of experience with this, so believe me when I say, “You’re not alone.”

Is this my kid?

So what do you do if your child comes back from college with a sleeve of tattoos a new sexual orientation or political views that now clash with yours. It can be difficult, but it’s all part of growing up. For me, watching them learn, explore and grow has been thrilling. I loved hearing my daughters talk about people they met from different backgrounds, and new ideas they never explored before. They were learning and embracing new people and new ideas they wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. 

Not all changes are negative

After their first semester, I saw each daughter make huge steps in becoming more independent. They learned how to manage their own time, nutrition, exercise and finances. When they came back home, we were pretty amazed to see how quickly they were becoming adults.

My family approach

As you witness them becoming adults, you’ll have a big decision to make around the holidays when they come home to visit — do the house rules from high school still apply (e.g., curfew)? Here’s something we did that might work for you: My husband and I decided that since they were becoming adults, we were going to treat them like adults. When they asked us permission to do something, we would say, “You can do whatever you want — you’re an adult.” We even had a sort of running joke about it. But, it’s a shift that my husband and I had to make. We took the view that they are responsible for themselves and that we are here to love and support them. 

One of the reasons we took this approach is because my husband’s experience after his first year of college was a negative one. His parents’ actions were contradicted one another. One parent treated him like an adult and the other treated him as though he was still a kid, which made him feel slighted and confused. He told our girls that story with the promise that he would treat them as adults when they came back from college.

Fair warning: the you’re-an-adult-now approach makes it really interesting when they make decisions you don’t agree wtih. You’ll have to work hard at figuring out when to say something and when not to, because sometimes the best way for them to learn is to actually experience things and make mistakes. Our job is to be the safe harbor that they can come back to. If you have that open line of communication where they don’t feel they’re being judged or nagged, they’ll share more with you, and maybe even ask for your advice before making a decision.

Every family has a core value system that’s taught and practiced in the home — those fundamental beliefs that guide our decisions and behaviors. College is such an exciting time to watch your student experience life as an adult and solidify their own core values for themselves. Whether those completely align with or shift from your values, these similarities and differences give us opportunities to have meaningful conversations and learn from each other as human beings. We’re all continually growing and learning, and the early college years are an extra special time for growth, especially when we surround each other with love and respect.

What do you think?

Share your personal experiences with us. Email


Cindi Farmer is director of strategic marketing and communications for Arizona State University’s Enrollment Services Communications team