Leaving for university can be emotionally tough on a teen, I know that the move away from the family home hit me hard in the first few months. I have been out of university for some years now but a recent chat with my Mum highlighted an issue that, until now, had never occurred to me.
Upon flying the nest, I left my mother at home with only my Dad and a younger brother. The impact of this sudden male-centric change never occurred to me. With rising fees and student protests across London, financial worries often cloud the fact university is a big deal for the entire family and not just the students involved.
Although not totally relevant to this blogs usual area of interest, I think this is a real issue that needs to be talked about. When doing some further research, I found that many universities don’t provide support for parents. I suppose my mum was lucky, she still had her boys to look after her, but what about those single parents who suddenly find themselves alone?
Research has suggested that with university fees set to rise, many will have to limit their education choices to those local to home. However for others, like myself, home didn’t offer me a huge range of options. On Monday I read a parenting and education survey called Degrees of Separation. Conducted by the University of Sheffield, the results have shown that 70% of parents will find their child leaving for university “emotionally difficult” with 40% believing that they will miss their child more than their child will miss them. With teens around the country stretching their wings and flying the nest, it is difficult for the parents who have put a roof over their head for all those years. I can admit that I didn’t consider the effect my departure would have on the family rhythm as much as I should have.
So what can we do about this? I think more support is needed for families from universities themselves, especially smaller families who really feel the gap of a child. It is also important to get this talked about within the media and the education system; the more informed parents and teens feel, the better they can adapt to radical family change. I didn’t realise the toll it tool on my own mother until she told me. I hope that by writing this blog piece more parents will know that it is ok to worry and they are not alone. The University of Sheffield actually provided tips (copied in below) for parents in their survey, which although relatively generic, is a really good start. Let’s just hope more universities use this example and continue the conversation.Happy households can only help towards a balanced society right?
Hints and tips from University of Sheffield:
- Take practical steps with your children to ensure you are confident they are prepared. Whether it’s shopping with them for basic kitchen equipment or making sure they have the right stationery, it can help your peace of mind.
- If the student has had health or psychological difficulties (e.g. depression, an eating disorder) in their teens or ever been diagnosed with dyslexia, dyspraxia etc, DO encourage them to share this information with the relevant service in the University. Starting university can be stressful and old issues can recur. There will be lots of help available, provided in confidential settings.
- Stay in contact with your children – but don’t overdo it. You want them to feel they have all your support if they need it, but you need to recognise they need space to go it alone.
- Help out your children with practical tools they can use: a printed weekly budget sheet for example – see our online money planner www.shef.ac.uk/moneyplanner. They may not use it all the time, but you’ll be confident you’ve helped them out as much as you can. If you haven’t already taught them how to shop economically, now’s the time!
- Make sure that they know how to cook at least two dishes that they like – at least then you know they can look after their stomach.
- Remember that universities invest in lots of services to help students: at Sheffield we have a university health service, residential mentoring support, a counselling service, front line information and advice based in the Students’ Union building, a multi-faith chaplaincy and personal tutoring support… It’s hard to let go, but they are in safe hands.
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