University Challenge: Nearly half of parents worry kids are hiding issues while at uni

  • Research carried out by Three UK highlights the communication breakdown between parents and children who flee the nest for university
  • More than two in five (44%) worry their child isn’t telling them the whole story about their life at uni and over half (52%) wish they spoke more often while they’re away
  • Freshers is a tough time for both sides, as nearly two thirds (65%) of parents found kids leaving home personally difficult to deal with
  • With almost half (46%) of parents saying they would benefit from advice on how to discuss mental health with their child, Three and Samaritans have launched a guide to help navigate the transition


18th September 2023 – As Freshers Month kicks off across the UK for thousands of students, research commissioned by Three UK highlights concerns parents face as their children flee the nest.


The survey of 2,000 parents and caregivers whose kids have left home for university, revealed that two in five (44%) worry their child is not telling them the whole story about life at university, while more than a quarter (28%) think their child is actively hiding concerns or issues from them.


Some of the issues most worrying parents were:

  • Exam deadlines and academic pressure: nearly half (47%) are concerned their child is struggling
  • Homesickness and financial strain: over a third (36%) say this is a major worry
  • Social anxiety: more than one-quarter (28%) think this could be a problem


While a majority (86%) of parents feel confident they can help their child face any issues, the things parents feel their child is least likely to speak to them about, or seek advice on, include trying recreational drugs (37%), issues with romantic partners (33%) and finding their limits with alcohol (27%).


As a result, Freshers can be a tough and worrying time for parents and caregivers: nearly two-thirds of respondents (65%) say their child moving out has been personally difficult for them. While more than half (52%) say they wish they spoke more often, nine in ten are grateful for mobile phones to keep in touch.


In response, Three and Samaritans have teamed up to create a guide for parents and students, with advice to encourage better conversations and maintain good lines of communication.


Elaine Carey, Chief Commercial Officer at Three UK, said: “Whilst university can be the experience of a lifetime, it’s important to acknowledge it can also be a tricky and unsettling time. It’s no surprise parents are worried about new challenges their child is facing, away from the comfort of home.

“We all know the profound positive impact simply talking things through with a loved one can have. That’s why we’ve worked with Samaritans to publish this guide which we hope will provide parents and caregivers with the tools needed to navigate these difficult conversations with empathy and compassion.”

Sonya Trivedy, Executive Director of External Engagement, Samaritans, said: “At Samaritans, we know just how important human connection can be. Our partnership with Three is a great opportunity to help bring people together and hopefully these tips will help parents still feel connected when their loved ones have headed off on the next stage of their lives.  When you’re worried about someone close, it can sometimes feel daunting or intrusive to ask if they are struggling, but opening up a safe space for someone to share how they are feeling can make all the difference.”

Louise Redknapp said: “Although I was so proud of my son Charley for flying the nest and having all these amazing experiences by heading to the University of Arizona, like any parent I was sad that I wasn’t going to see him every day and naturally worried in case he was struggling and wasn’t surrounded by his support network.

Keeping connected over the phone has been the key while Charley has been away. I have learnt that this is the best way to check in on him now that I can’t see his mood when he walks in the door. It’s great that Three and Samaritans have teamed up to encourage better conversations and help parents and their children maintain good lines of communication no matter where they are in the world.

Students’ mental health is so important to talk about especially when moving out or to uni, but parents’ mental health isn’t spoken about nearly enough after a big change for them. I hope this guide can help support those parents or caregivers to communicate in the best way with their child at university.”

Debunking the stereotype that students sleep all day and party all night, more than one-fifth (21%) of students call their parents at least once a day and nearly one third (28%) text at least once a day. Meanwhile, almost a third (31%) of parents and caregivers say they would be concerned if they didn’t hear from their child in a couple of days, while just 24 hours of silence raises alarm bells for more than one-fifth (22%).

While nine in ten (90%) parents say they’re grateful for mobile phones for helping them keep in touch with their kids, over half (52%) still say they wish they spoke to them more often.

This frequent communication is supported by Three’s network data which last year showed a spike in 4G usage in university cities such as Glasgow, Nottingham and Manchester in October and November as students started the new term. Meanwhile, Durham, St. Andrews and York – all known for having large student populations – saw a peak in 4G data volume in October when Freshers began.

The most popular times to communicate are weekday evenings (6-9pm), with almost two-thirds (60%) of parents saying they speak at this time and weekend afternoons (12-5pm) favoured by just over a quarter (28%) of parents. The favoured methods of communication were:

  • Individual messages (SMS, WhatsApp or another app) – preferred by 58% of parents
  • Voice calls – 53%
  • Video calls – 38%
  • Group chats – 18%
  • Voice messages – 13%

Parents and caregivers know they are not alone in acting as a support network, though: two-thirds (66%) of students will go to friends, 34% to those they live with or other family members, and just under one-fifth (19%) will use official university support networks. If a student is struggling and unsure of who to turn to, they can always contact Samaritans for emotional support.

Anyone can contact Samaritans FREE any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit. This number won’t show up on your phone bill. Or you can email or visit


Notes to Editors

  • Research carried out by Censuswide between 08.08.23 – 16.08.23; 2,000 UK parents of children who were university students in the last 5 years surveyed
  • If customers are looking to support Samaritans, Three and Tech21 has launched a new series of iPhone cases that each carry a donation to Samaritans. These are available now online at and instore.

About Three 

Three launched in 2003 as the UK’s first 3G only network, laying its foundations as the network that was born to be different. Today Three is a connectivity company that connects people to people, people to things and things to things and has 9.96 million customers.

Our network today covers 99% of the UK population and we carry 28% of the UK’s mobile data traffic.

Three launched 5G in August 2019, is the largest holder of spectrum in the UK and has been recognised by Ookla as having the UK’s fastest 5G network. It is the only operator able to meet the International Telecoms Union (ITU) 2020 standard of 100MHz of contiguous spectrum for full 5G services.

Three is the official partner and shirt sponsor of Chelsea FC men’s and women’s teams.

Three UK is a proud partner of Samaritans, where it will use the strength of its network and technology to connect 1 million people to emotional support.

Three was voted the Best Network for Data by uSwitch, and the Best Wholesale Partner at the Mobile Industry Awards.

Three UK is part of the CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd group of companies which has mobile operations in 11 countries. We employ more than 4,800 people across our offices in Reading and Glasgow and our 297 retail stores.

About Samaritans

Samaritans is a charity and it’s the public’s kind donations, corporate partnerships and more than 23,000 volunteers that mean we are always there for anyone struggling to cope.


Anyone can contact Samaritans FREE any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit. This number won’t show up on your phone bill. Or you can email  or visit  for more information.


Every 10 seconds, Samaritans responds to a call for help. Find out how you can support us or volunteer with us.



Headland Consultancy –

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