Washington State University has received a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to examine how parents can best support their children while in college.
The money will go to study the effects of a handbook WSU gives to parents called “Letting Go and Staying Connected with your WSU Student,” which at this time is available only in print.
“It’s a very cool handbook, because it gives parents two things: a set of activities they can do with their students to identify their most important values, and to show how those values could help them make decisions on issues they’d likely to encounter when they’re in college,” said Laura Hill, head of WSU’s Department of Human Development and one of the authors of the handbook.
College-age kids do actually value their parents’ opinions, even if they seem to act otherwise, Hill said. The handbook includes research to prove that point.
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WSU has distributed the handbook free to parents for the past two years, but the university doesn’t really know if the advice is effective, or if it’s being used. That’s where the NIH grant comes in.
Starting in summer 2017, the grant will fund a study that follows incoming students and their parents through four years of college. Three groups will be studied: families who don’t receive the handbook, families who do receive the handbook and families who receive the handbook and also receive reminders – in the form of text messages and emails – about what they learned from it.
If researchers can prove the handbook is successful at guiding college students, Hill hopes it can become a template for other schools.
Hill and WSU colleague Brittany Cooper developed the handbook with help from two experts in the University of Washington’s School of Social Work, Richard Catalano and Kevin Haggerty.
She said the handbook is unique because it gives parents activities to do with their children to help them prepare for the decisions they'll have to make in college. And it helps parents find ways to guide decision-making, rather than providing ready-made solutions.
For example, Hill said, if your daughter calls up to complain about a messy roommate, the handbook “helps parents guide students to think about what to do, instead of just telling their student what to do.”