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College Parenting Tips – Setting Boundaries About Credit Card Use

Written by Diana Clark
Published on September 2, 2021

Parenting college-aged children is a balancing act between holding on and letting go. As you send your college student back to school for the fall, setting appropriate boundaries and sticking to them can be a challenge. This article by our Chief of Clinical Operations Diana Clark features a personal account of managing expectations and setting and enforcing boundaries when it comes to giving your child a credit card to use at school.

Setting expectations around college student credit card use

I dropped off my son in NYC for his Junior year of college after he spent a year and a half sequestered in his childhood bedroom during Covid. He seemed no more ready to tackle school after this social hiatus than he did two years ago for the freshman drop-off. I did what many Mothers across this country did; I tried to ease his discomfort ….and mine too. I helped him make his 2 x 4 room cozy, tried not to use too much oxygen, or ask too many questions and

I gave him a credit card with strict instructions that it was to be used only with permission or for emergencies. He broke the rules on the first day with a GrubHub order. Now what?

How rationalization can cause more problems when it comes to upholding boundaries

Did I call, text, or otherwise let him know he crossed the line? No. Instead, all my standard rationalizations flooded my brain:

  • It’s the first day
  • He’s nervous
  • It’s food
  • It’s not drugs or alcohol

The truth is that no rationalization sticks. I know better. I advise parents about the need to set realistic limits and boundaries and when those limits aren’t observed to act. And yet I didn’t. Like many parents, I get waylaid by my desire to ease my son’s burden and tell myself that a lack of boundaries is kind when in fact it may deprive him of a valuable lesson. And I will pay in more ways than financial for my forbearance. It will be doubly hard to impress upon him that I mean what I say when it happens again. And it will happen again. I tell myself maybe it won’t, but instinct and experience tell me different. I just taught him a valuable lesson. I will say something, set a limit, and do nothing when breached. UGH

Course correcting with appropriate boundary setting next steps

So now what? I own it. I call him up and tell him I fell down on the job. I tell him that he violated the rule and I let it happen, but I vow to do better next time.  I add an admonition that for future violations of the credit card rule, deactivation of the card will be my only recourse. And now……… I hope I don’t have to actually do it.

Sending your child off to college can feel scary, but you’re not alone! If you are concerned about your child’s mental health or that they may struggle with substance abuse or an eating disorder while at school, we’re here to help. Contact us today to learn more about our concierge mental and behavioral health support for young adults.


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