Ground Rules for Parental College Visits

College is the best four years of your life (at least in theory). It’s about freedom, independence and having cold pizza for breakfast just because you can. It’s our first foray into the “real world,” which is pretty exciting, but it can be a little scary for parents to watch the nest empty out.

Hello. My name is April and I will be a college senior this fall.

After being away from home for three years now, I have seen many parents visit their children at school. I’ll mention that I’m 110% supportive of parenting visits, and I firmly believe that college kids need a little home every now and then. I really love going out for birthday dinner with my parents. Just because I moved to a new state doesn’t mean I’m a totally adult.

Even so, I think there are some basic rules that need to be set for parent visits. It’s a touchy subject, so here’s a quick guide on how to stay connected with your college student without suffocating them.


Call First – You know how embarrassing it is when the neighbors stop by for a drink and you haven’t cleaned the house? Don’t do this to your children. Your son or daughter could be a perfect little angel, but their roommates could have company of the opposite sex and you really, really don’t want to interrupt anything. In addition, your own offspring will undoubtedly have to “clean up” a bit before you come by.

Entertain Yourself – College students spend plenty of daylight studying, and parents should find something to do during this time. Going to a suite and finding your roommate’s parents sitting on the futon twirling their thumbs while they wait for their child to finish writing a paper is awkward, so don’t stay around.

Store the mini fridge – not just for your children, but for the entire room. Trust me. The quickest, easiest way to get on the good side of your child’s roommates is to feed them. The food in the dining room is not particularly good, so snacks and dinner (even if it’s cheap) are always welcome.

Find a place to stay – Nothing is more uncomfortable than stumbling out of the bedroom in the morning and finding the parents of a roommate sleeping on the futon. A dorm is not a house and there are no guest rooms. Make your accommodation plans in advance.


Be the parents who visit every weekend – independence only works when both sides participate. Do you know how your child stopped calling you every day after their first week of college? That’s because she’s starting to figure out how life really works on her own. Stay calm. Visiting every weekend hinders your son or daughter’s ability to become independent (and kids really need to learn to cook and do laundry at some point).

Stay longer than a few days – A “visit” is a day or two with your child. If you’re planning on staying on campus for a week or so, either look for a cheap vacation or try reliving the glory days. Parents should come and go.

Judge – your child is now running on their own schedule. His suite or dorm will likely be messy and he’ll likely wait until he’s out of socks and underwear before doing the laundry. He studies late at night instead of right after class, and eats ramen noodles and popsicles instead of balanced meals. Just let it happen. Keep calm, avert your eyes from the dust bunnies piling up in the corners of the room, and save your complaints for the drive home.

Do you think you visit too much? You could be If you still have to send your love, stick a care package in the mail. College students love receiving gifts (this is a firsthand report and I assure you it is absolutely true) because they are non-time-consuming representations of home and family, and also because they are easy with us can’t get biscuits school like mom does at home.

Does it seem like there are a lot of rules? Yes, but it’s pretty simple really, and it boils down to this: If you don’t want the neighbors in your house to act a certain way, don’t act that way towards your children.

I’ve been away from home for three years now and I still love when my parents come to visit because I really want a hug from mom and dad and an update on how the pets are doing. But at some point parents push their limits. So college students come from anywhere, just don’t overdo it.

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