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Friday May 27th

'Feel proud of your kids': A guide to caring for first-year students from afar

<p>Patty Masa poses for a portrait with her son, first-year Gavin Masa, during the parent rally behind the Old Well on Thursday organized by the UNC-CH Parents Helping Parents Facebook group.</p>
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Patty Masa poses for a portrait with her son, first-year Gavin Masa, during the parent rally behind the Old Well on Thursday organized by the UNC-CH Parents Helping Parents Facebook group.

For rising UNC sophomore Luisa Peñaflor, daily photos of her cat and phone calls from her parents kept her grounded when she started college.

Julia Contreras, Peñaflor’s mother, said that she would text pictures of the cat every day to Peñaflor to assure her that everything was taken care of at home and she could focus on her schoolwork.

Along with photos of her cat, the family created a phone call schedule to best communicate while Peñaflor was on campus.

“Keep it consistent,” Peñaflor said. “Have a lot of communication between how much is too much. I know some parents calling twice a day might be too much for some people, while for some it might be too little.”

Adjusting to life at UNC

Though caring for a student from a distance looks different for each family, psychology and neuroscience professor Andrea Hussong also suggested creating a communication schedule depending on what times work best for everyone.

In addition, Hussong suggested that parents develop an emotional radar to determine if communication needs to be increased. She said that some students might experience adjustment issues as they begin college or might need more support due to mental health concerns.

“If you're getting feedback from your child or you're getting feedback from their friends that things are not going so well, then I think stepping up communication is absolutely appropriate,” Hussong said. “Not to come in and save the day, but to help them.”

Incoming first-years and parents of UNC students have faced new challenges due to the pandemic.

The COVID-19 experience has presented skewed ways of learning and life, Hussong said, but many students have been able to develop valuable experiences and skills.

“They have the skills that they need to go forward,” she said. “And the parents’ job at this point is to support them in using those skills and in having a growth mindset with their kids, and when it doesn't work out — what they can take away.”

Every communication schedule and family situation will look different, but Contreras advises first-year students' guardians to always pick up the phone.

“Feel proud of your kids,” she said. “Don't be sad — it’s the course of life. They have to go out and study and get their own life and if they call you, be there. Never say you’re too busy or anything. Be there whatever time they call, no matter what.”

University resources for parents and guardians

The University offers a variety of programs, meetings and events that serve as resources to aid in the process of caring for students from a distance, according to UNC Media Relations.

New Student & Family Programs is available to any parent, guardian or family member of a UNC undergraduate student who is interested in having extended communication with the University. 

The NSFP has created the Carolina Family Handbook, which can be found on its website and provides information about campus resources ranging from University Libraries to dining halls.

Family members can stay up to date with campus and University news by signing up for UNC Family Experience. This resource includes personalized newsletters, email alerts, deadline information and more.

The Carolina Parents Council serves as a leadership body for UNC families to represent and the needs of students and families, according to its description. The council works to create positive and efficient communication between the UNC and University families.

Families also have the opportunity to participate in the Carolina Family Weekend. It is an annual event for family members to see the Tar Heel experience first-hand.

This fall, the celebration will be held Friday, Oct. 7 through Sunday, Oct. 9 and will include a meeting with University leadership, on and off-campus festivities, a football watch party and more. The weekend will kick off with a meeting hosted by the Carolina Parents Council.

A more detailed schedule will be released in early July, according to the NSFP website, and registration for the event will open in late summer.


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