Family Matters

24 Apr

The college experience of today is not the same four-year rite of passage as it was for me and maybe for you, my colleagues in campus ministry. For those of you who did not have the “traditional” four-year college experience or for those of you who minister at a “non-traditional” college or university, please join this conversation.

Factors like economic strife and unemployment woes shift focus from the college experience to the college career. To deter exorbitant debt, students take more classes per semester to finish in fewer years, they live with their parents or other relatives and commute to school, and students seem to have less time to devote to “extracurriculars” as they take on one, two or more part-time jobs to pay their way through school. How do we minister in campuses with changing landscapes?

Particularly, how do we minister to and with students whose families are more involved than ever in their daily lives? Family involvement is not a bad thing. Youth leaders and teachers yearn for more family interaction with young people all through students’ grade school years. Family engagement does not switch on and off with the start of college. It is a transition, and it can be a sticky one for many families, especially the child and parent relationship. Making matters more challenging is establishing boundaries when campuses look more like what I described above.

Allow me to share some examples: Parents make the decision for their son to transfer to a school closer to home. Parents determine whether or not their daughter can participate in campus ministry activities. Parents reach out to me because they are concerned for their child’s decisions, wanting me to “fix” him or her.

Perhaps I am reacting out of a place of privilege or narrow-mindedness. I had the benefit of being immersed in a four-year college experience. My parents encouraged me to do well and to participate in college life. They were close enough to visit me on occasion, but they did not hover.

Let me reiterate. Family involvement is not a bad thing. What are unhealthy are “helicopter parenting” and triangulating of the campus minister into family matters. These dynamics seem to have increased because of economic conditions, extended adolescence and other circumstances.

In these critical transitions to and in college and into adulthood, how do we encourage students’ to take ownership of their lives and faith? How do we help parents and families create new and healthy boundaries with their college-age children? Might we  reach out to local congregations to offer more resources and opportunities for parents of college students?

What does your campus look like? Are your students able to make a healthy transition into college and adulthood? How are you a part of that transition?

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Meghan Roth is the campus coordinator for the Wesley Fellowship at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, GA. A recent graduate from Wesley Theological Seminary, she also has served as an intern with the campus ministries at Shenandoah University (Winchester, VA) and The American University (Washington, DC). She is a certified candidate for ordained ministry as an elder in the United Methodist Church.

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