Before They Go to College
It is an exciting, heart-wrenching, and overwhelming time when you send your teen off to college for the first time! There are so many things to pack, prepare, and plan. And there are so many changes coming to your lives. As a parent, you will likely feel the need to prepare your teen for what lies ahead. That might mean teaching your teen to do laundry or buying your teen’s dorm room essentials. But, in addition, you should help your teen prepare mentally for the changes ahead. So, before your teen heads off to college, here are a few discussions you might want to consider having:
Don’t miss your opportunity to tell your teen what a wonderful experience it has been to be their parent and what a wonderful person you think they have become! Tell your teen their accomplishments that have made you proud, their attributes that you most admire, and the confidence you have in their judgment. Remind your teen that although they are an adult, you will always be a support for them and that they can call you anytime for any reason at all. Your teen will need some reassurance as they embark on this next phase of life.
Your teen likely has a lot of hopes and fears about attending college. Ask questions about what your teen expects. Listen, more than talk. Remind your teen that every freshman headed to college is feeling the same mixture of excitement and anxiety. Provide reassurance to your teen by listing their strengths, reminding them of past challenges they have overcome, brainstorming how to handle their fears, thinking through ways they can get connected to other students, and suggesting methods to relieve stress.
When your teen begins college, you will not have legal access to their grades and will receive no progress reports from the school. As a result, it’s probably a good idea to talk to your teen about how they will share their progress with you and what options they have if they begin to struggle academically. Discuss how your teen will choose their classes, and encourage them to balance their schedule with harder and easier classes, as well as ones that are required with ones they are excited about. Explain that some students find college harder than high school, and it’s ok to need extra tutoring or help from professors.
College students spend less time in class than high school students, but the extra time is meant for studying. There is more work required outside of class than ever before. Have a frank discussion about how your teen can realistically balance their schedule. How will they organize themselves? How will they determine how much studying, down time, partying, extracurricular activities, or screen time they will allow themselves? Encourage them to be realistic about their own quirks and personalities. A night owl should not be signing up for an 8am class, no matter how awesome it sounds. An early bird needs to make sure that they are not waiting until late at night to fit in studying.
Alcohol and Drugs
Alcohol-related hospitalizations of college students are still on the increase, and many experts feel that the greatest risk is in the first semester, when students are just learning how to manage their social lives and independence. First-time marijuana use among college students is at the highest level in three decades. About 1 in 5 college students will become first-time marijuana users (compared to 1 in 10 if you don’t go to college). Discuss your values around alcohol and drugs and explain the dangers of using them (including prescription drugs). Explain how your teen can stay safe when they go to parties. Discuss the buddy system, set up an Uber or Lyft account for them, and make sure they know how important it is to call an ambulance if someone else needs help, regardless of the repercussions.
Love, Sex and Consent
Hopefully you have had conversations with your teen already about love, sex, and consent, and this will just be a refresher. It’s important during these discussions to ask lots of questions, helping them to explore situations that they might not have considered previously, and listening to their responses without judgment. You should also inform your teen that the pressure at college for sex, as well as the risk of sexual assault, is higher than in high school. If you’re not sure what to say about sex and consent, we highly recommend that you read our previous blog, Sexual Assault Awareness. You should definitely make sure your teen has the latest information about how to avoid pregnancy and STDs. Finally, discuss what makes a healthy relationship. Our culture seems to equate “dating” with sex, but in reality, dating is a time for couples to get to know each other. Focus on helping your teen identify characteristics and values they want in a partner and using dates to determine if they are a match.
So far in life, if your child had any medical issue, they have turned to you. Now that they will be on their own, your teen needs to know what to do if they break their leg or get the flu or face other medical issues. Provide your teen with a much needed lesson in first aid, when to see a doctor, and a basic understanding of insurance information and how to fill prescriptions. Hopefully, you have already given your teen lots of information on the importance of good nutrition and sleep over the years, but now would be a good time for a reminder.
Teach your teen how to make a budget, how to monitor their expenses, and the consequences of overspending. Clearly define who is paying for what during their college years. Discuss whether your teen will need a part time job. Determine if your teen should have a bank account or a debit or credit card. If your teen does have a debit card, identify where the closest ATM is.
As you have these discussions, there are a few essential points to remember:
Recognize that your teen wants to be heard. Even if you don’t agree with them, they want to know that you understand their point of view and that you won’t disregard their feelings. You should listen to your teen more than you should talk. Whatever your teen tells you, stay calm. Focus on hearing your teen’s opinion and understanding their thoughts before you even say a word.
Your teen is embarking into the adult world, so talk to them in a more adult manner. Don’t tell them what to do, but rather ask questions to spark discussion, negotiation, and understanding. If you can help them think through situations from different angles, your teen will come to a good decision on their own, which is exactly what you want them to do as they become adults.
Demonstrate respect as you talk. Do not disapprove, criticize or belittle their ideas. You don’t have to say you agree with them, but you could ask them why they like the idea, or how they plan to accomplish it. Just listening to your teen and asking probing questions can show your support and help them realize whether their ideas are viable or not, all by themselves.
Enjoy these discussions! Your teen is truly a young adult embarking on a big life journey, and it’s time to celebrate who they have become!