Parents and students walking during SOAR (Summer Orientation to Academics and Resources)

Welcome, parents and guardians to the Queen’s University community. Your student is engaging in a journey marked by intellectual and personal growth that will shape the rest of their life.

Students have many resources at Queen’s to help them have a positive university experience, but they will look to you to provide much valued support and encouragement. One way you can provide it is to remind your student of the excellent resources, such as SASS, available to them at Queen’s, and encourage them to use these resources at challenging times.

At SASS, we support students’ academic growth by helping them develop skills in writing and learning. We do this via online resources and tools, workshops, and individual appointments. Our service is free, confidential, and highly supportive of undergraduate and graduate students in all programs and years. We help struggling students as well as highly achieving students. Please explore our website to learn more about how we can help your student achieve their academic potential.

Student Affairs also has additional resources available to students at Queen’s.

Please note: Confidentiality of academic, personal, health and other information about your student is strictly enforced throughout the University. Information can only be shared if your student has given specific written permission.

What changes might your student experience at Queen's?What Might I Experience, as a Parent or Guardian of a Student?But is my student on track? Psychological Development of Late Adolescents and Young AdultsBut HOW Can I Help My Student? Suggestions for Parents and GuardiansIntellectual Development in the University Years

What Changes Might Your Student Experience at Queen’s?

1. Differences in Academic System, Compared to High School
2. Differences in Living Arrangements and Social Situation

What Might I Experience, as a Parent or Guardian of a Student?

The Journey of a Parent or Guardian

As protectors of young children, our young ones taught us to carry. As teachers of youth, they taught us to walk slightly ahead and lead by example. As coaches of young adults, they will teach us to walk in step… or sometimes behind or ahead at any moment.

Having your child attend university is a significant transition for parents, guardians and families. Much as you may have raised them to be motivated to develop themselves academically, personally and in other ways, it is a hard reality when you leave them at university, often miles away, and frequently without family close by! It is a safe assumption that you will experience many of the same up and down emotions as your student, plus parental concern for their well-being.

Families at Queen’s come from many different backgrounds and contexts, and therefore have varying parenting styles, family models and concepts of “self”.  Your student’s growing independence may challenge your traditional role of decision-maker or confidant. Students will need to make independent decisions and show initiative in the university environment, egg. when setting time priorities or participating in group projects or labs. For many, these will be new skills, and especially challenging for students of closely knit families or collectivist cultures. Students will do best if they are encouraged to develop the self-confidence to be autonomous, while remaining connected to their family and friends.

Families are often concerned that the values with which their student has been raised will be forgotten in the new university experience. It may be challenging for parents to watch their student explore new ways of thinking, believing, acting or dressing but these activities are important in the development of the unique person that your student will become. One advantage of your student experimenting with new bedtimes, new eating styles, new political ideas, new spiritual practices, new career interests, etc is that they are doing so within a caring community, at an age-appropriate period of time, and with support  resources available. They will learn much by “doing”, and then by “managing” the outcome of their decisions, but only if they are given the opportunity. Emerging adults see themselves as separate from, and a part of, their family. If this is the first student in your family to leave home, your own feelings of separation, loss and change of role may surprise you. Your role may be to express your trust that they will learn and become responsible for themselves, and to point them in a helpful direction when asked.

Parents or guardians who have had a very active advocacy role for their child for reasons of mental or physical health concerns, disability issues, personal challenges, etc. may experience strong mixed emotions of uncertainty, relief , fear, hope, excitement as their student attends university. We suggest that you encourage your student to connect with appropriate resources on campus, and that you set up regular (but not too frequent) check-ins.

But is my student on track?

Psychological Development of Late Adolescents and Young Adults

The literature on student development follows 2 lines primarily: the psychosocial (Chickering and Reisser 1993) and the intellectual (Perry, originally in 1970).

 Chickering’s 7 Vectors are based on the notion that development is a combination of internal maturation, appropriate challenges, and support from the environment. The model deals with self-identity and also establishing mature relationships and a personal value system. He strongly supports the notion of “interdependence” not “individual independence” as a psychosocial goal, which is useful in our international community in which family structures may be more collectivistic than individualistic. The vectors are not precisely hierarchical, but the focus of development may swing from one to another.

Generally, in 1st and 2nd year among traditionally aged students (17-19 years) and young-adult aged students, the tasks are:

  • Developing competence: Can I do this?

Confidence in intellectual, physical and interpersonal areas allows one to take risks and thus continue growing, and is achieved through academic work involving critical thinking and acquiring knowledge, physical and sport activity, social communication among classmates or teams or friends.

  • Managing emotions: How do I handle my feelings?

Managing emotions requires both self-awareness of one’s emotions, developing positive or constructive ways of expressing them, and handling conflict. Development includes dealing with anxiety, sexual impulses, aggression, room-mate issues and counteracting those feelings with optimism and courage.

  • Moving from autonomy towards interdependence: Can I shift focus from family to peers?

This stage focuses on development of emotional autonomy plus the recognition of one’s interdependence on others. “Tasks” include the decreased need for approval (moving from family to peers to self) and increased self-regulation. Usually the development includes the growth of independence and separation from family, growing self-direction, independent problem-solving, use of external resources followed by finding a middle ground allowing for interdependence on family and others.

  • Developing mature interpersonal relationships: Is there someone special for me in the world?

Satisfying adult relationships require that one develops non-judgmental tolerance and acceptance of differences among people, and the capacity for openness, trust, and reciprocity in relationships. Skills include the ability to listen, understand and empathize without passing judgment, and attitudes include acceptance, respect for differences, and appreciation of commonalities.

Generally, among 3rd and 4th year students, the developmental task focuses on:

  • Establishing identity: Who am I?

The ability to articulate a clear, realistic and consistent self-portrait results in the formation of a unique identity. This includes developing commitments regarding core characteristics, values, and roles that include gender roles, sexual orientation, racial identity, disability identity. Identity becomes evident in how one dresses, with whom one socializes, and how one chooses to live.

For many, the early adult years following graduation focus on:

  • Developing purpose Why am I here?

Discerning a sense of direction in relation to family, career, further study, lifestyle and a broader sense of one’s life–work may take several years.

  • Developing integrity Are my values, beliefs and actions aligned?

Mature adults have the ability to objectively resolve complex and conflicting issues in a manner congruent with their core values, and act accordingly.

Reference: Chickering, Arthur W., and Reisser, Linda, Education and Identity, 1993,

2nd ed., San Francisco: Josey-Bass

Perry (1970) focused on intellectual development during the college years among American male post-secondary students, and his research has been expanded to include female students. The work allows faculty to understand the development of how the student learns, reasons and understands so that curriculum can be shaped accordingly.

Generally, 1st and 2nd year students engaged in dualistic thinking (knowledge is absolute and knowable), and 3rd and 4th year students develop multiplistic thinking (knowledge is diverse and uncertain), and eventually relativistic thinking (contextual thinking) in graduate school, leading to constructed knowledge or integrated thinking in graduate school or in the work world.

But HOW Can I Help My Student?

Suggestions for Parents and Guardians

Generally, parents are more involved in the lives of their children than was the case in earlier generations. Several factors have been suggested to explain this, such as;

  • Changes in child rearing practices: parents have been making social, recreational, educational and other arrangements for their children since birth. Parents are accustomed to “arranging” and their children are accustomed to “being arranged”.
  • Communication is more frequent, and perhaps of different content:

E-communication is 24/7, cheap and available. This can also result in looser boundaries among people.

  • The cost of university is a major investment: if parents are contributing to the education costs, they may have a feeling of responsibility in ensuring their student graduate.

The QUESTION becomes: “How can parents balance established family habits and structures with the needs of their student to separate from family and develop into an autonomous, but connected, adult?”

The ANSWER may be: “This is difficult, but occurs by parents having faith in their child’s ability to learn and adapt, and allowing them opportunities to make decisions and manage the outcomes for themselves.”

  • Anticipate the basic life skills needed, and teach your student how to do laundry, minor sewing repairs, make half-dozen quick and nutritious meals, do basic money record keeping, and create a monthly budget.
  • Discuss how transitions are both exciting and stressful. Some discomfort is normal, cannot be avoided, and usually is helped by getting involved in campus activities, and finding even 1 person to have meals with. Many people adjust to significant changes in their life within 3 – 6 months, although some take longer.
  • Assess how much support is necessary—and in what areas—and provide what is needed. This isn’t the same as leaving your student to “sink or swim”, but rather this approach of “only what is needed” enables your student to gain confidence in their abilities and learn from their mistakes. They will know that you are there in the background.
  • Stay connected, but leave enough space for your students to develop a support system of their own on campus. E-mail, send a care parcel, phone at arranged times, consider a weekend visit perhaps and see the beautiful small city of Kingston…their new home away from home.
  • If your student is phoning or texting so much that they are not establishing a social support group on campus, encourage less frequent or shorter contacts. Reinforce a positive attitude of “you can do it!”
  • Encourage involvement on campus or in the Kingston community. Studying all the time is neither academically efficient not socially beneficial.
  • Students who live at home may struggle to feel part of the Queen’s community. Family rules may need to be negotiated to reflect the student’s need to develop autonomy. Parents may find it helpful to speak with family friends or others who have experienced similar transitions.
  • Asking general questions (How is it going with your courses?) rather than probing questions (Did you hand in your lab report on time?) lets your student know you are interested, and that you trust they will manage themselves responsibly. General, open questions enable your student to share information as they wish, while “yes/no” questions often limit conversation.
  • If your student asks for advice, first ask them for their opinion or how they would solve the problem. You will learn what’s on their mind, how they think, what is important to them and your student will learn independent problem-solving skills and confidence. They will have the opportunity to learn from possible mistakes and assume responsibility for their decisions. This leads to increased competence.
  • As your student explores new ideas and ways of doing things, the possibility of conflict between you arises. Arguing may result in them becoming very selective in what they share with you, or may help both of you to clarify your values and opinions. In any case, you and your student may have different views. To reduce frustration, consider saying “I’ll need to think more about this- let’s talk another time”.
  • If your student lives away, when they return home they wish to spend time with their friends, as well as with you. Both you and your student are defining new relationships within the family as they shift their focus from family to peers. This is another balancing act between established family patterns and the independence of the young adult. Try to make the most of your special time together, rather than feeling disappointed or neglected.
  • If your student seems consistently distressed and you become worried about their health or well-being, express your concern by sharing with them what you have noted in terms of their behaviour or conversation. Sometimes a few good nights of sleep, some exercise and relaxation will be enough to help your student feel “back on track”. If appropriate, encourage them to make an appointment with the Counselling Service (through Health and Wellness Services,, or phone 613-533-2506), or other service on campus. Please remember that the Queen’s policy on confidentiality prevents information to be shared without the specific consent of the student.

Intellectual Development in the University Years

Perry (1970) focused on intellectual development during the college years among American male post-secondary undergraduate students, and his extensive qualitative research has since been expanded to include female students. The work allows teachers to understand the stages of development in how a student learns, reasons and understands so that curriculum can be shaped accordingly.

“This central epistemology about knowledge and learning triggers parallel shifts in the learner’s views about the role of the teacher – moving from an Authority as the source of “Truth” to an authority as a resource with specific expertise to share – as well as the role of the student – moving from a passive receptor of facts to an active agent in defining arguments and creating new knowledge.”

Taken from

Generally, students engage in the following types of thinking as they proceed through university, and beyond. The time frames for this development are variable, but the typical progression includes:

In 1st and 2nd year dualistic thinking predominates, characterized by the belief that knowledge is absolute and knowable. The discussions you have with your student may reveal fairly fixed attitudes and opinions, which reflect an “all or nothing” or “right or wrong” style of thinking. With practiced in upper years at university. This development relates to shifting one’s level of thinking from memorizing and understanding to analyzing, applying and evaluating (Bloom, 2002).

In 3rd and 4th year, multiplistic thinking is developing. This involves recognizing that knowledge is diverse and uncertain. Your student may express greater interest in viewing an issue from many perspectives, or be willing to be uncomfortable with the new notion of “no single right way”. The deep questions of existence identified by Chickering suggest the ability of young people to engage in this complex, uncertain thinking.

Early in graduate school, students develop relativistic thinking in which the context or circumstances take on greater importance than previously, and the merits of potentially opposing views can be evaluated. Discussions with students reveal thoughtful evaluation, including opinions that may differ from family or cultural values and ethics.

As a mature adult in the upper years of graduate school or in the work-world, integrated thinking based on constructed knowledge may be achieved. The past experiences, personal awareness of priorities and values, and accumulated knowledge enable the individual to think in a rich and creative way and to accept the possibility of incomplete understanding. If the individual develops a world view or follows an approach to solving problems that is consistent with their beliefs, they demonstrate what Chickering refers to as integrity.

Perry’s ideas can be applied to help parents understand the changing way in which their student will think and understand their world. In particular, 1st year students often are confused by their growing sense that, compared to high school, they are less intellectually able to “learn it all”. This feeling of uncertainty can be discouraging but parents can suggest to their student that they are actually deepening their journey, and their uncertainty is an important sign of growth and development (assuming of course that the student is demonstrating appropriate effort and engagement with their courses).

Over the years at university and as students continue to develop intellectually, they will shift from a sure sense of certainty in what they know, to one of recognizing what they don’t yet know, to understanding that they will never know for sure, and then growing into the perspective that they make their own meaning based on their knowledge base and moral/ethical position.