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Role of Parents & Guardians

Gannett Health Services
110 Ho Plaza
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-3101

Tel: 607 255-5155
Fax: 607 255-0269
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Whether you're "down state," across the country or half way around the world from Ithaca, parents, guardians and family members are also part of the Cornell community. All have a vital role to play in helping to create an even more caring, supportive, and healthy environment for your college student.

Similar to the transition from middle school to high school, parents/guardians and their now college student have entered into yet another phase of their evolving relationship. As the student further-explores the bounds of freedom and personal responsibility, parents/guardians increasingly must delicately balance their "letting go" and "supporting", and all done from a distance.

Some students have reported that what they need most during their college years are "effective allies." Being an effective ally means "walking with" rather than directing. Developmentally and by their own admission, college students want and need to learn how to:

  • problem-solve
  • handle disappointment
  • ask for help when what they are doing isn’t working
  • re-group and get going again
  • take care of themselves physically, emotionally, academically
  • make a mistake and learn from it
  • handle natural consequences without getting bailed out.

For these developmental processes to progress and take root, students need encouragement to engage in these behaviors over and over again, on their own, knowing that whatever the outcome, they have an effective ally in their parent/guardian. As you have conversations about important topics, practice communicating without judgment, criticisms, lectures or dictates.

How to be an effective ally  

1. Listen, listen, and listen

  • The key to being a good listener is patience.
  • Hold back and wait until the speaker is finished. 
  • Focus on what your student is saying rather than jumping ahead to where you think the conversation might be going. 
  • Don’t interrupt; don’t finish the other person’s sentences. 
  • Empathize with what your son/daughter might be feeling so that your response is grounded in an attempt at understanding

2. Respond (rather than react) when your student tells you about a problem 

  • Tell them you love them/care; let them know you are glad they are sharing the problem with you and that you want to help.
  • Express your confidence in their problem-solving abilities. 
  • Emphasize that challenges or seemingly difficult situations are opportunities to practice problem solving skills. 
  • Encourage them to come up with solutions. 
  • Ask open-ended questions " “What do you think might help in this situation?” “Will you tell me about the options you do have?” 
  • Help them think through/think out loud about consequences, obstacles and outcomes related to each option.

3. Keep the conversation balanced. Your job in a conversation is to offer your point of view as a perspective to consider, not to convince your student that you are right and know more about them. Your student is an emerging adult with knowledge and opinions about what is best for him or herself. 

  • Sometimes you and your student may be unable to come to an agreement about something. Allow each person’s perspective to be what it is, their point of view, and stop talking about the topic.
  • It’s okay to take a time-out from a topic if the conversation gets too emotional. Acknowledge what’s happening, suggest taking a time out and make a plan to return to the topic at another, set time.

4. Become familiar with campus resources and encourage your student to access them.

Articles for parents

Excellent web sites!

  • Healthy Minds. Healthy Lives provides useful information about depression during the college years (from the American Psychiatric Association).
  • The Jed Foundation, a national organization dedicated to reducing emotional distress and preventing suicide among college students, has excellent resources for parents, including:
    - Parent Online Tools and Advice: tools and information that parents need to help protect the emotional health of their college-age children
    - The Transition Year Project: information to help ensure the smooth, safe and healthy transition of teenagers from high school to college


Parents can stay up-to-date

Sign up for Cornell parent emails by sending a message to parents@cornell.edu.