As joyful as winter, spring, or summer break can be for students, for many parents it can be a time of shock. The young person who comes home might only marginally resemble the child the parents dropped off at school just a few months ago.
In many cases, this is a good thing, even though it can be jarring for the parent. College students are learning independence and responsibility, and many report “finding themselves” while at university. But, in the midst of all that “finding,” they might also lose something important – their faith. In fact, studies indicate that 70 percent of students abandon their faith at college.
In the precious few weeks your college student is home, it’s vital you take time to reconnect, find out how their life is going and get a real sense of where they are spiritually. These five conversations can help you gain insight into your child’s new life.
1. Tell me about your church.
Hopefully, you’ve been encouraging your child (maybe even nagging them) to find a church home in their college town. While they’re home with you, dig a little deeper to find out how well they’re connecting with their new community. Ask about the pastor, his preaching style and how he’s similar or different than their pastor back home. Find out about the style of worship, average age of the congregation and the size of the college group.
Take a genuine interest in this new church, and your child will be happy to share more. If your child can’t share details of their new community, it’s likely they aren’t attending regularly or aren’t plugged in. This can lead to deeper discussions of what your child should be looking for in a church home and why it’s so important to remain a part of a church fellowship.
2. Who are your three best friends and how did you meet them?
The friendships developed in college can last a lifetime, and they also have a real influence on the adult your child is becoming. Find out more about the young people with whom your college student is spending their time. Do they share your child’s faith? Are they encouraging your child to walk with the Lord, or is their influence causing him or her to drift spiritually? Did they meet in the dorms, in class or at church? What shared interests helped them become close friends?
Not only is it important to take an interest in your child’s new life, but it can help you get a better picture of the influence molding your student during these formative years.
3. Who is your favorite professor and why?
Luke 6:40 tells us, “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” Professors have an extraordinary influence on students, and it’s very likely your child’s instructors do not share their worldviews. Less than 1 percent of professors at elite universities claim to be born-again believers.
If there are particular professors with whom your child has connected, find out more about their background, what they teach and why your child relates to them. Ask what they’ve said your student liked and if any of the professor’s teachings confused them. There’s no avoiding your child coming into contact with views different from their own, but they may need help discerning truth.
4. What student activities have you joined?
Involvement on campus is a great indicator of emotional and mental health. Students who join clubs and organizations report a greater rate of satisfaction with their college experience and perform better academically. Beyond encouraging your student to stay involved, learning about their interests will help you understand the person they’re becoming more completely.
Furthermore, if your child shares they’re having difficulty making Christian friends or getting connected, encourage them to look into their university’s spiritual life organizations. Many college campuses, even very secular ones, have vibrant faith communities, such as CRU or Baptist Student Ministries. The more your student is spending time with other students of like mind and faith, the more likely they will remain committed to their beliefs.
5. Tell me about your quiet times.
When a college student begins to stray from their faith, one of the first things to change is their devotionals. Students who once spent time reading their Bibles and in prayer, while in their parents’ home and through the encouragement of youth pastors, suddenly find themselves overwhelmed by studies, activities and new friends.
Once their commitment to reading their Bible fades away, it’s all too easy to start sleeping in on Sundays, and the slow fade begins. You can’t force your child to read the Bible while at college, but you can encourage them to do so. Have open and honest conversations about where they are spiritually, encourage them to find an accountability partner or recommend a Bible study app to help them stay plugged into the Word on the go.
During the few weeks when your child is home from school, be intentional about learning more about their life and where they are spiritually. Your student may legally be an adult, but your parenting duties aren’t over quite yet. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to help your child maintain their faith through the challenging college years.
Dr. Finny Kuruvilla is the founder of Sattler College, a recently-founded Christian college in Boston. Sattler seeks to revolutionize the higher education model by providing rigorous core curriculum and Christian discipleship at an affordable cost. For more information or to apply, visit www.sattlercollege.org.