But despite parents’ efforts to prepare their children and the extensive safety protocols set up by colleges and universities, the novel coronavirus has infiltrated campuses nationwide, turning many into covid-19 hot spots in just a matter of weeks. With cases continuing to rise, forcing switches to online-only classes and strict dorm lockdowns, parents have found themselves trying to figure out how to communicate their concerns from afar.
Discussions about safety, especially during a pandemic, need to be ongoing, said Ludmila De Faria, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Florida who specializes in college mental health.
“It can’t be just one conversation when you drop them off at college and you’re like, ‘Remember to wear your mask, use hand sanitizer, don’t congregate with more than four people, maintain your social distancing,’ and then it’s like you forget about it,” she said.
On the other hand, she added, constantly expressing your worries and trying to dictate your child’s behavior probably will do more harm than good.
She and other experts offered tips for finding the right balance when discussing how your kids can stay safe from the virus.
“If [parents] have a checklist that says, ‘Are you wearing your mask? Are you gathering with fewer than six people? Are you staying six feet apart?,’ I mean, that will get old very, very quickly,” said Karen Coburn, a former assistant vice chancellor and author of “Letting Go: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding the College Years.” She added, “You can’t expect to have an open relationship if you interrogate your child rather than having a conversation.”
De Faria recommended framing your questions to focus on what people around your child are doing. For example, ask whether your child’s friends are being safe or whether anyone on campus is getting sick.
“Kids in college still have very much that mentality of doing things in groups,” she said. “If you ask them if their friends are wearing masks, and not congregating and following the guidelines, that’s a good indication that their kids will be doing it, too.”
You should also work on managing your own stress, said Mercedes Samudio, a licensed psychotherapist specializing in parenting and families.
“Don’t get stressed out every time you hear a news story and call them with it, but really learn how to sit with your own fears and your own worries first,” she said.
This is not the time to lecture your college-age child about safety or scold them when they stray from the guidelines, experts say.
Instead, aim for the “Goldilocks Zone,” said Gloria DeGaetano, founder and chief executive of the Parent Coaching Institute, which has its headquarters in Bellingham, Wash.
“It’s not overly permissive, and it isn’t overly controlling,” DeGaetano said. In this zone, you are able to maintain your authority but still be gentle, caring and supportive.
“You’re not policing,” she said. “You’re investing in the child’s growth, and you’re working to give that young adult what he or she