Should College Ministers Work with Parents?

Arliss Dickerson

One friend who had moved from youth ministry to college ministry said the thing he liked most about it was, “No parents!” I get what he was saying…but…I think we make a mistake if we are not trying to connect to and help parents of college students.

Parents are looking for ways to be helpful and speak wisdom into the lives of those who have just graduated from high school and are navigating college. As those who work with this group, we can help them know ways to be helpful. One way to do this is to offer a workshop for the parents of those who will be graduating high school, or do it in the summer prior to the start of college.

We can speak to the common issues that these “new adult world citizens” will face. We can also share some ways that young adutls can navigate this new world. Many parents have been described as “helicopter parents” (and these days, you might even refer to them as “drone parents”). Obviously, the term refers to those who hover over their young person and sometimes are too helpful and not allow them to learn to make their own decisions, etc. But, with the advent of the cell phone and college students no longer having to find a pay telephone to call home, constant contact is a reality. So, we can help parents learn to navigate and benefit this constant contact.

What are some topics that one could speak to in a “Being the Parent of a College Student” seminar? Here are some possibilities:

  • Pluses and Minuses of Having a Declared Major at College
  • Should a College Student Borrow All the Money Offered to Them?
  • Myths About Freshmen Year
  • The Five Dumbest Mistakes Freshmen Make
  • Pros and Cons of Joining a Fraternity or Sorority First Semester

Some might say, “What a great idea; where do I get the material to lead these sessions and speak to these topics?” Talk to the college students with whom you now have contact. As questions like, “What do you wish you had known a year ago?” or “What’s the dumbest mistake you made fresh out of high school?” You will usually get wonderful material and some that can’t be used for a variety of reasons.

Or, a college minister could simply hold a gathering for the parents of these emerging adults. One thing that can help parents who are concerned about the next step for their son or daughter is just getting with other parents who are in the same boat. They can encourage, learn from, and help each other. If nothing else, it helps to know that there are others who have the same concerns. Hearing the questions they have can help us know some of the answers we need to be finding and sharing. The first step in being helpful in a situation is knowing what the questions are.

One of the obvious questions is, “What can parents do?” Here are four suggestions I make:

  1. When visiting or considering colleges, check out the spiritual growth options and make that a consideration in the decision.
  2. Communicate an expectation of spiritual involvement while at school. Parents communicate an expectation of good grades, so why not an expectation of spiritual connection?
  3. Make sure the Baptist Collegiate Ministry or church ministering to that campus has the name and contact information of your student prior to the start of school.
  4. If parents go to visit for a Parent & Family Weekend or Homecoming, make a church attendance on Sunday part of the plans for the weekend.

For those who are concerned about the significant number of young adults walking away from the church immediately following high school, parents can and should be partners with us in combating this disturbing trend. As someone who writes a blog aimed at college ministers, I can tell you that the blog I post each year entitled, “10 Things the Parent of a College Freshman Should Know” is, by far, the most read blog of all time. It continues to be read throughout the fall…not just in late summer when it is first posted.

While a church-based college minister can offer such an event for parents in his or her church, a campus-based college minister could offer to do this event for a variety of churches. There is a need here that those of us who work with college students need to be addressing. Not only can we be a resource to parents, but they can be a resource to us as well. And, I have learned that parents can be powerful advocates for college ministry in a variety of situations!

Arliss Dickerson | arlissdickerson@gmail.com | www.collegeministrythoughts.blogspot.com

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