Distance parenting

Mother And Daughter Meeting With Male Teacher

Can you call? Can you see their grades? What’s a parent to do?

You’ve dropped off your student at their new UBC residence building or waved goodbye in the airport terminal and suddenly they’re on their own—and so are you. But what if they encounter challenges? What if they need your help? What is a parent or guardian to do?

A balanced approach

It is widely acknowledged among mental health professionals that parenting approaches such as helicopter parenting and snowplow parenting can hinder youth from developing into independent, resilient adults.

Rather, healthy development depends significantly on youth having opportunities to solve problems, overcome obstacles and take reasonable risks independently, without parental intervention.

But you don’t want to step out of the picture entirely.

So what is a balanced approach to distance parenting your university student, which empowers them to discover their independence, resilience and agency, while making sure they know they can turn to you for support when needed?

While there’s no magic formula, here are some pointers to help you address a few common issues.

Venting time

Get ready for it. You’re bound to get at least one phone call home that involves your student venting about one (or more) issues, whether it’s a conflict with a roommate or neighbour, a difficult class or assignment, or any mix of the challenging emotions that come along with their university adventure.

But remember, venting is literally a way to release pressure—to blow off some steam. It is not necessarily a request for you to jump in and solve the problem for them.

Try this

Instead of diving in with a solution, ask the following question at some point in the conversation:

“Would you like me to listen to you, or would you like me to listen and offer advice?”

Note that this question doesn’t ask “would you like me to solve the problem for you?”

Asking the question about what kind of support your student would like keeps them in the driver’s seat; it tells them that the direction of the conversation is in their hands.


Grades at UBC are communicated directly to students and, like all of your student’s personal information and records, they are protected by BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).

If your student is reluctant to share their grades, there could be many reasons, which may or may not be an indicator of how well they are performing.

Try this

Discuss your expectations early: Have a conversation before they leave for UBC, or early in the year, to establish that you expect to see and discuss grades at the end of each term. That way, when you ask later, it’s the natural outcome of that agreement, rather than prying into their affairs.

Keep it neutral: When you ask to see or discuss their grades, try to keep a neutral tone, so your student knows the conversation is about helping them measure and track their progress, rather than about judgment, criticism or failed expectations.

Having said all that, there is a way for parents to directly access some records, such as a student’s grades, if the student submits a third-party authorization to the university.

Substance use

An important conversation to consider having with your student is about substance use—alcohol, cannabis, nicotine and other substances.

It’s recommended to have a conversation with your student about this subject, no matter how challenging, to discuss expectations and risks.

When to lean in

Maybe your student hasn’t returned your calls. Maybe you’ve got a feeling that something’s up. Whatever the case, there is a role for parents in ensuring the health, wellbeing and safety of their student.

There are a few ways to engage UBC and community resources to help with any concerns or worries you might have, whether that’s reaching out via a Residence Life staff member or helping your student connect with health and wellbeing resources at UBC.

To learn more about what you can do if you’re concerned—and how UBC can help—read I’m worried, my student hasn’t returned my calls.

Know where to find help

Take some time to familiarize yourself with these UBC resources: