Leaving for college is a major transition for any student and for the entire family. Regardless of the proximity of the college to their home, this transition represents that a teenager is separating from their parents and moving into the next phase of their educational journey as well as young adulthood. A range of emotions can be experienced by both parents and teens and the months leading up to this weekend can be a bit of a roller coaster for everyone. Here are ten talks and tips to have as you lead up to the big day!
- Discuss A Communication Plan: Of course you want to stay in touch, but how much is too much? With texting, email and FaceTime it is now easier then ever to “keep tabs” on your teen but college is a time for separation and independence. Talk about your need for them to check in while respecting their schedule and desire for autonomy.
- Their Mental Health: With depression levels at 1 in 5 for adolescents, and your teen dealing with so much transition, a discussion about one’s mental health is essential. Discuss the warning signs and where to get help on campus. Your explanation to them that their mental health is as important as their physical health will assist them in feeling comfortable to approach you when things are not “feeling right”.
- Provide Reassurance about the family that they are leaving behind. Life will go on and move forward at home for all family members. Most students want to be kept in the loop while they are miles away and need to feel connected by knowing about any changes, challenges or issues at home. Telling them that it will be a transition for everyone will help reassure them that they are not going through these changes alone.
- This Is Their College Experience & Their Dorm Room: Be sure to let them decide on what to bring and what to buy. After all they will be sleeping on those sheets and using that computer-not you. A few suggestions and gentle guidance is helpful but letting them start college with their own sense of style and their own comforts will help them in their first few weeks at school and whenever they feel homesick.
- The Money Talk: Talk to your teen about their finances and the responsibility about paying bills and maintaining a budget. A discussion about the allure of student credit cards and risks in signing any type of contracts or memberships. The first year will be a big enough adjustment for many kids so for some a part time job may be difficult but for others it will be a financial necessity. Talking to your college student about balancing a job, school work and free time is a must.
- The Sleep Talk: Getting enough sleep is a major challenge for some first time college students. With the busy frosh week ahead and their first taste of “real” freedom, some students will quickly get caught up in the fact that college is a very social experience and to be honest, there is always a party or a night out with friends. Talking about the need for enough sleep for not only their academic success, but more importantly for their own health and well being is an important topic.
- The Partying Talk: As noted in number #5, there are many distractions and night’s out for college students. If you haven’t already done so while they were in high school or if you feel they need a reminder on this one, a discussion about alcohol and drug safety safety as well as the topics of sexual assault and campus safety should be talked about.
- Be Proactive: Provide a safety plan for your college student int he rare case of an emergency. Give them a list of emergency contacts and nearby supports such as the student counselling centre and local medical and dental offices. They will probably get this information at an orientation session but better to have the info already listed and tucked into a safe place for any future reference is a good idea.
- Keep Calm: Your calm demeanour in the weeks prior to drop off will help keep them calm. Easier said then done I know but really, calm support and a sense of humour go a long way as you begin the college countdown.
- The “First Year Isn’t Forever” Talk: For many first year students the pressure to achieve academically is tremendous. They may have done very well during high school and they wish to keep up this level of success but realistically with all of the first year adjustments, it is likely that their grades will fall. Some schools tell students to expect a ten percent drop (at least) in their first semester. Others feel that they must declare a major in their first year and have it all figured out quite quickly when in fact most people change their college major three or four times. Some students realize that what they thought was their “best fit” college is in fact not a fit at all. Letting your teen know that it is ok to switch programs, faculties and even colleges will put their minds at ease when they fail their first paper, get their first “C” or just feel that things don’t feel right at their school. It will make it easier for them to bring up how they are feeling and ask for help in navigating a transfer and remembering that first year does not last forever!
Until next time,