Full disclosure: I’m not a parent.

After working in higher education and K-12 systems for seven years, I’ve had my share of seeing parents overstep in situations where their young adult could have done the leg work. This was all with the best of intentions, and yet the students I was working with definitely felt emasculated, embarrassed, and helpless. In an effort to bypass young adults experiencing those emotions, I’ve written about what I believe to be the top 12 things that I saw as a student affairs professional where it just wasn’t necessary for a parent to intervene.

1. Choose your child’s major

Let’s let them pick. Now is the time for you to let go of expectations you might have had for what your child was going to be, and accept the route they are going instead. You will be pleasantly surprised with what a young adult can do with a liberal arts degree!

2. Register them for classes and/or influence their schedule

Ideally if the young adult knows that they aren’t a morning person, they won’t be registering for 8 a.m. classes. Let them make that decision, though. The first semester is usually the worst because freshmen end up being the last to register for classes on campus. If they can make it through this one term, they’ll be able to register for a schedule that’s ideal for them. Now, if for some reason they are out of the country, or away from their computer during their registration time slot, it’s important for you as a parent to let them figure that out on their own. This is a scheduling conflict. It’s ideal that they problem solve on how to register for classes on their own.

3. Tell them which organizations to be involved in

Gosh, college can be about exploring so many new opportunities!  You can certainly tell them what you were involved with when you were in college, and after that disclosure, just sit back and enjoy hearing about what they decide to participate in. If anything, just encourage them to get involved with something, anything. Let them take the initiative to seek that out, though.

4. Log into their e-mail address and send e-mails as if you were them

As a campus staffer, I can tell you right now that when an e-mail is sent from a parent, we can tell. There’s a distinct difference between how Generation X writes and how Generation Z writes. We do the best we can to draw out your young adult to advocate for themselves. E-mail is not always the best avenue for that. They need to learn to log into their e-mail to make sure they aren’t missing anything being sent to them — no matter who is trying to contact them.

5. Check their grades daily

I know a lot of parents who withhold tuition payment unless a Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) release is signed so they can access grades. If you have this agreement with your child, by all means that is your agreement. I strongly suggest you limit checking grades to the end of each semester only. That gives your young adult ownership of their academics, and it still allows the access to what you want to see in order to pay their tuition. You definitely don’t want to waste your money. Realistically, there are few grades given in each college course. Students won’t truly know the trajectory of their grade until within weeks of the semester ending anyway.

6. Contact their professors to challenge a grade, assignment, or ask for extensions

This is a big no-no. If you want your young adult to advocate for themselves, coach them through how to do that themselves. Don’t do it for them. If they are struggling with learning disabilities or mental health issues, have them connect with a case management office on campus who also help advocate on their behalf with faculty. As a parent, though, you need to understand that with FERPA, technically, faculty cannot even confirm they have your young adult in their class. I’d be shocked if they even responded to your e-mail. Stepping in to challenge a grade or ask for an extension can create a serious conflict between the faculty and the student.

7. Contact their advisor

As advisors, we tell students to take a series of classes based on their degree and matriculation plan. For a student who is exploring majors, we advise them to take general education classes that will count towards a degree once they declare a major. This also allows them to cross off majors they aren’t interested in. Our job is truly to teach each student to understand how to read the course catalog, navigate DegreeWorks, and take ownership over their college plan.  When I was success coaching at a large university, I showed students how to create their own future schedules with what ifs for Plans A, B, C, and D, so when they went into their advising appointment, they were the ones leading the discussion around what they planned to take. That approach allowed the advisor to make sure they weren’t overlooking a prerequisite or double up in a content area that they had already met requirements for (i.e. Don’t take another science class if you have already met that requirement). This allowed students to really take pride in their future! 

On the flip side, for the disengaged students that come into an advisor meeting and walk away with a list of suggested classes based on those general education requirements, it’s up to them to make sure they register for the suggested classes. When it comes to registration day, the student is the one who registers, not the advisor. If they sign up for classes that they don’t need, remember it was their hand that clicked the mouse to register. It won’t be until the end of the following semester that the advisor will catch what the student did.

8. Contact university administration to complain about not being able to get into classes

Yes, it’s unfortunate when your young adult doesn’t get into the classes they need. Sometimes it’s because they signed up for the last possible orientation date in the summer, or because they just forgot to register during their registration slot. Regardless, this is something your young adult needs to navigate with their advisor and the faculty of the classes they’re trying to get into. It would be more appropriate to contact a university administrator regarding a Title XI issue, or if you’re concerned about the safety and well-being of your young adult.

9. Wake them up for classes

This is something I say a young adult needs to be able to do even before they leave for college. They need to be able to set an alarm, wake up, and go to class. If their first class is at noon and they can’t make that, failing the class with be a natural consequence. College is a safe place to fail in this regard. Once they are outside of college and have a job, they will be fired quickly for not waking up or showing up for work on time. Your full-time student needs to treat their education like a full-time job.

10. Guilt them into visiting home or calling you all the time

One of the things we know about whether or not a student will be successful is if they are connected on campus. That could be socially, academically, or even physically. It’s so hard to let go and trust them to be an adult on their own. You can certainly ask that they reach out to you often, but don’t expect a communication schedule. If you haven’t heard from them for an extended period, it’s definitely okay for you to reach out to them. Just touch base. If they come home for the holidays, great. If they choose to go skiing for break instead, try not to be hurt. This is their time where they are forming authentic adult relationships. This is not the time to treat them like they’re regressing developmentally and need you as their parent.

11. Do any assignments for them

This is a hard no. If you make this choice and your young adult is found to have not been the one who completed their assignments, there will be serious repercussions. First, they could be dismissed for academic dishonesty. How would you explain that to anyone who asks you why your child left college? Another reason could be that your young adult is mentally unwell and you are thinking you’re helping them by doing their assignments for them. This is the opposite of help. You are actually hurting them by carrying out their coursework for them when they aren’t learning anything, and they’re not getting the treatment they so desperately need.

12. Track your student via GPS

Yes, I know of parents doing this. Talk about suffocating your young adult. This is where it’s appropriate: to have it on and not ever mention anything about it, except to see where they are if they’re out hiking, if they’re traveling on their way home and there’s inclement weather, or they lost their phone and can’t find it and are asking you to help them from a friend’s phone. When it’s not appropriate is if you know their class schedule, the location of their classes, and you check to see where your young adult is during class time. If you discover they aren’t physically in a class that started six minutes ago, and you call them to yell at them for not being in class, I’d consider this really over the line. When that young adult comes into my office, talking about their depression because they feel like they are being suffocated, it’s hard as a professional to help that student brainstorm how to take care of themselves when they have a parent like that. Now is the time to loosen the reigns, not tighten them. And try to remember they’re becoming their own person. That will never happen if they’re micromanage from afar.

If you are doing any of the above, I encourage you to take a moment and reflect on the emotions driving these actions. If you aren’t seeking your own help, I encourage you to do so. You can read some books that speak to navigating college in 2019 as a parent of a college student. I’d personally recommend The Campus Cure, The Stressed Years of Their Lives, or The Naked Roommate: The Parents Guide. If that’s not enough, I’d encourage you to seek out a parent coach. These are folks who are clinically trained, yet aren’t doing therapy with you. They are merely coaching you into how to be a different parent now that you have a college student. I personally recommend The Experiential Healing Institute, Solutions Parenting Support, Parent Coach Professionals, and Deb Daufelt of New Chapter Solutions.

Feeling overwhelmed with who to go with? Connect with a professional who can help you and your young adult now. This is someone who understands the grieving process of a parent and their maturing college student. This is someone who understands what young adults need to do to be successful and is familiar with this development stage in a young adult’s life. And this is someone who is creative and can help recommend resources to you and your young adult during the college years.

For more information, check out my post on Lilley Consulting Facebook page.

For anyone looking for additional resources around mental health, substance abuse, college transition coaching, or parent resources you can find them on: https://www.lilley-consulting.com/ or follow @lilleyconsulting, or https://www.facebook.com/LilleyConsultingLLC/.


  • Joanna Lilley, MA, NCC

    Therapeutic Consultant / Young Adult Transition Specialist / College Success Coach

    Lilley Consulting

    After previously working at two institutions of higher education, specifically in Student Success & Retention, Joanna hung up her shingle to provide support for the flight of students leaving colleges campuses.  She now dedicates herself to working solely with emerging adults who unravel when they land on a college campus.  Her passion and drive is to coach this population back into good academic standing, or connect this population to mental health and substance abuse treatment programs that will provide stability, sobriety, and the executive functioning skills this population needs to move forward in life.  Most of her clients are currently enrolled on campus, or those who have already left feeling defeated.  With a magic wand, Joanna supports young adults with mental health issues with their the transition into adulthood and back into higher education.  Fear not, she works with the entire family system to help them heal and grow as this is not a "quick fix."  You can learn more about Lilley Consulting by checking out the website.  You can also listen to the Success is Subjective Podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or any podcast listening platform where she interviews individuals across the country who took a break during their emerging adulthood years.  This podcast is ideal for young adults or families members who are looking for hope and relief in supporting a loved one.  When not working with young adults, you will find Joanna writing or playing outdoors with her rescue pup in the mountains of western Colorado.