6 Strategies for Helping Parents (without violating FERPA)

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Parents are important partners in supporting student success. They are also part of our university family. I enjoy interacting with parents and encourage them to contact me if they have questions. However, due to FERPA privacy laws I am restricted in how much information I can share with parents.

Here are six strategies I use to help parents when they have a student in crisis or in need of support:

1. Provide information about campus policies and deadlines. When a student or family is in crisis, knowing their options can relieve the pressure of the situation. I frequently explain course and term withdrawal policies, medical leave of absence deadlines, and options for taking incompletes. Many parents have questions about what will happen to a student’s on-campus housing if the student is no longer enrolled full time or takes time off during the year. Information can empower them to make informed decisions.

2. Give information on campus resources. Again, information can be empowering. There are many resources available for students and parents. With knowledge of these resources, parents can encourage their student to pursue a tutor, talk to a counselor, seek out an academic advisor, apply for disability resources, or visit an instructor during office hours. There are also resources specifically for parents, often called Parent & Family Programs, which help parents get connected with the university.

3. Share in generalities. I may not be able to talk about the specifics of a student, but I can share my approach to handling different situations. For example, if a parent asks whether her student came to see me about a roommate conflict I can explain how I would handle the situation without disclosing whether or not I met with the student. I might says, “Typically I ask the student about the situation and notifying Housing if it is occurring on campus. I may also ask the other student to meet with me. If the issue involves safety, I would notify campus police to check on the situation.”

4. Share tips for communicating with college-aged students. It can be helpful to explain to parents that this is a time when young people naturally seek independence and choose to find their own solutions. Parents might consider having a conversation with their student about how often a student will check-in with a parent to reassure the parent that he is ok. If a parent is paying for the student’s tuition, it might also be reasonable to ask for some assurance that the student is progressing academically.

5. Ask questions! I may not be able to disclose much information, but the sky is the limit on what parents can share with me. I ask parents, “Is this unusual behavior for your child?” “What is he like?” “What has he told you about his experiences here?” This helps me assess whether there has been a change in the student’s behavior and/or how much he is disclosing to his parents. This can also be helpful in determining the relationship between the parent and student.

6. Provide words of encouragement. It makes a difference to parents when they hear that other students have experienced similar situations and been successful. I frequently tell parents, “There are many paths to success.” It makes a difference to parents when they hear that other students have experienced similar situations and been successful. I frequently tell parents, “There are many paths to success.” If a parent has shared about the student, I may focus on the strengths of the student and say “From what you have described, it sounds like your student has tremendous potential” or “I hear that your daughter has great self-awareness.”

I do not share any FERPA protected information with parents, including confirming or denying whether a student is enrolled, a students academic performance, where a student lives, or whether I have contacted a student. There have been exceptions in situations when a student is an imminent threat of harm to self or others. A student does have the option to sign an information release agreement if he/she would like a parent to have more information.

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