Sending your Teen to College
If your teen has just graduated high school, congratulations! This is a very exciting time in their young life! If your child will be moving to college this Fall, then welcome to one of life’s more difficult transitions. Both parents and teens usually feel overwhelmed by all the upcoming changes, which might lead to an emotional roller coaster. Once they arrive in college, life is so different for both the parents and teens, it takes time to adjust. In this blog, we will talk about common feelings in the transition and the importance of establishing expectations before your teen leaves the nest.
Weathering a Difficult Transition
Both parents and teens are going to be pulled in different directions by conflicting emotions. Parents will be excited and happy about the future for their child, but also sad about not seeing their child every day and nostalgic for his or her younger days. Parents may feel they are on an emotional roller coaster. We highly recommend that parents find another couple or a support group that is working through the same transition. This will help you feel that you are not alone, help you learn what to expect, allow you to support each other, and facilitate new ideas because others may suggest new ways of dealing with a particular problem that you did not consider.
A college-bound teen will feel equally excited and scared about leaving. In one moment, they will be declaring their independence from you, and in the next, they will be asking for your help or attention in some small matter. Teens will have ups and downs as they approach this change, and parents should try to be understanding of their teen’s swinging emotions.
Establish Expectations Before They Leave
The key to a successful transition for both the parents and teen are to establish expectations ahead of time. Misunderstandings will hurt your relationship, so try to work everything out ahead of time so that you don’t frustrate each other. Parents and their teen should sit down during the summer and work through the issues below. Parents should remember that their teen is a legal adult, and it is time to negotiate and compromise with them to lay down expectations with which everyone feels comfortable.
Budget. Develop a tentative budget for the college year and be clear about who will pay for what. Make a list of everything from the big tuition bill to the books and supplies to the incidental expenses such as snacks and movies. Parents should explain what they plan to cover and help their teen determine how they will cover the rest. Some students are responsible for earning a percentage of their tuition, while others only pay for incidentals. Come to consensus on what will work for your family. Additionally, parents should teach their college-bound teen about responsible use of credit and debit cards.
Grades. Remember, many freshmen do not perform as well academically in their first semester as they did in high school. This is natural as they adjust to so much change at once. It is also quite common for freshmen to change their minds about their proposed course of study. Instead of expecting them to make the same grades they did in high school, ask them what they hope to accomplish academically during their first year. It is important for them to take ownership of their education. If you have specific expectations for their college grades, lay them out now, not when there’s a problem. For example, a parent who is paying tuition for their child may state that they will not pay for failing grades. If the student flunks, they will be responsible in the future for their tuition bills. However, do not forget that your teen is a legal adult, and you cannot enforce their academic achievement. Try encouragement instead.
Communication. How and when are you going to keep in touch? Some families arrange for a planned time to talk once a week, while others prefer to pick up the phone more spontaneously. Email and texting can be fun ways to keep in touch as well. Allow your teen to identify how much communication makes them feel comfortable. Do not be hurt if your teen doesn’t want to touch base daily. They need space to grow. But parents should expect at least a phone call once a week.
Visits. Discuss when and how often you will visit each other. Should parents come to the college campus once a semester? Will your teen return home for winter and summer vacation? Everyone is different in their approach. Some teens want to come home every weekend, while others only return on scheduled breaks. Some love their parents to visit them at college, while others prefer college to be “their space.” Both parents and teens should identify what level of visitation would make them happy and then compromise on something to which you can both agree.
Every college student approaches the change differently, so it can be difficult for parents to navigate the balance between showing love and concern and letting their child go. Most parents truly do want their grown children to build lives of their own, but they hate to see them go through the struggles to get there. Rest assured that the foundation you have laid for the last 18 years will travel with them to school. You have done all you can to help your teen be ready to face adult challenges. In August, we will offer some guidance on what your new parenting job description looks like once your teen has left your home and is attending college.