The Importance of Strong Parental Relationships Through the Transition to College

Written by Margaux Stanitsas and Gwendolyn Price

Throughout childhood and adolescence, the relationships with our parents remain as one of the most influential and critical to adjustment into adulthood. As we transition into college, we begin a new stage of autonomy, self-reliance, and critical problem solving. Through these new adventures navigating adulthood, our relationships with our parents are tested. The foundations of communication and support created through strong parental connection can be extremely beneficial in this new college environment. Closeness and security allow for successful self-regulatory behaviors to emerge, a growth mindset to be nurtured, and can even be factors of influence in academic performance, heavy drinking, and frequency of disruptive and maladaptive behavior in college settings.

The ways that parents support the autonomy of their children, and how involved they are perceived to be in the lives of their adult children seems to predict many academic, psychosocial, and behavioral outcomes. Parent relationships are highly related to grade point average (GPA), that is, the better the relationship with one’s parent, the greater the student’s GPA is likely to be. Additionally, a high-quality parental relationship is related to fewer negative academic issues like probation and suspensions (Schwanz, Palm, Davis & Hill-Chapman, 2014). However, though the correlation between these factors is small, the results are consistent with other studies looking at parental relationships and their influence of psychosocial factors and academic performance (Schwanz, et al., 2014). The data also suggests that the effect of parental relationship seems to be stronger for females than males, but overall, parental relationships may be very important for college students regarding their academics, and perhaps particularly important for girls during the transition to college.

Moreover, parental involvement and parent’s support for their children’s autonomy seem to be especially key for academic and intrapersonal success in college students. Academic performance is positively related with perceived parental involvement and support for autonomy (Wong, 2008). This trend suggests that the more supportive parents were, and the more involved in their child’s life, the better their children performed academically. Further, students’ ability to manage their emotions and behaviors in academic and social settings, termed by scientists as effortful control, is also influenced by these parenting behaviors (Wong, 2008). Students who have more involved and supportive parents seem to exert more effortful control, according to the study. Most importantly, perceived parental support and involvement seem to be “protective factors” for high-risk students. These students typically have parents with low levels of education or parents that are immigrants, which impacts the student’s educational experience. For instance, a high-risk student might have parents who know very little about navigating the higher education system, which impacts their ability to access educational resources. These strong relationships, fostered through communication and support, increase the chances of academic success, especially in these specific populations.

Parental nurturance, or engagement, support, involvement, and security may also impact student academic success by influencing the mindset of traditional and non-traditional students. Students who feel more nurtured and cared for by their parents report higher levels of life satisfaction (Waithaka et al., 2017). The results also showed that nurturing parents, whether it is the mother or father, are associated with being able to embrace challenges and persevere through obstacles, or what researchers call having a growth mindset (Waithaka et al. 2017). Even just one strong parental relationship can positively impact the student’s ability to actively accept life’s challenges and power through difficulties with the objective to learn and better oneself. Having a growth mindset is beneficial in academic settings because it allows one to push past hard times to learn and excel. The researchers contrast this type of mindset with the fixed mindset, defined as unwillingness to learn from setbacks and giving up easily in tough times. The data demonstrates that having a fixed mindset, influenced in part by parental relationships, is equally harmful in nontraditional and traditional students. Strong connection to parents in both sets of students seems to be beneficial to their academic success through influencing the student’s mindset.

Parental attachment can also have an impact student’s adjustment to college. (Mattanah et al. 2011). The closer that students feel to their parents, the better adjusted they are in the college environment. For instance, if a student feels like their parent is always available for support and guidance, they are more likely to feel comfortable and safe in their transition to college. The researchers note however, that this relationship in the data is small, but suggest that attachment to parents is at least indirectly involved in adjustment to college. Mattanah et al. (2011) posit that feeling protected and cared for by their parents, even at a distance, termed the ‘secure attachment’ style of parenting, allows for the best outcomes in student’s adjustment to college.  

Through strong and close parental bonds and communication, fostered even before the start of college, students are able to successfully adjust and flourish socially and academically in this new environment. While there are many influences in familial relationships, and external pressures in a college environment, the effects of a close communication with parents, and a sense of security and care these relationships seem to create an overall positive impact on the transitioning young adult.


Mattanah, J. F., Lopez, F. G., & Govern, J. M. (2011). The contributions of parental attachment bonds to college student development and adjustment: A metaanalytic review. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 58(4), 565-596 doi: 10.1037/a0024635

Schwanz, K. A., Palm, L. J., Davis, J. L., & Hill-Chapman, C. R. (2014). College Students Perceptions of Relations With Parents and Academic Performance. American Educational Research Journal, 2(1), 3–17. doi: 10.1037/e627552009-001

Waithaka , A. G., Furniss , T. M., & Gitimu , P. N. (2017). College student mind-set: Does student-parental relationship influence the student’s mind-set? . Research in Higher Education Journal , 31. Retrieved from

Wong, M. M. (2008). Perceptions of parental involvement and autonomy support: Their relations with self-regulation, academic performance, substance use and resilience among adolescents. North American Journal of Psychology, 10(3), 497-518. Retrieved from: