My conversations with colleagues and friends have been dominated by the discussions of two topics: politics and sending my kid off to college. Both are full of emotions and both are full of opinions and ideas. As many of my colleagues are dropping off their first born kids at university campuses, they’ve shared their thoughts, fears, excitement, and emotions. Most of the things they’ve discussed with me would not have crossed my mind! These discussions are ones I hope to remember when I’m in the same situation and I’d like to share some of the tips I’ve learned with you.
Advice for sending your teen off to college:
- Emotional ups and downs are normal. Many of the people I’ve encountered have questioned whether it’s normal to feel so emotional when their teen left for college. In fact, every person I’ve spoken to has described an range of emotions from excitement and pride, to fear and sadness. This is a major life transition for you, your teen, and your entire household. You’ve spent every day for the last 18 years taking care of a person; they’ve been a part of your home and you’ve maneuvered your schedule and life to serve their needs. Now your teen will be off on their own! I wouldn’t expect everyone to be calm, cool, and collected! As a parent, lean on your friends, spouse, partner for support. Make sure you take care of you.
- Determine a tentative schedule for communication and talk about how you’ll check in. If you expect your teen to call/text/instant message you every day, you may be disappointed. Don’t set yourself up to worry if they haven’t called you in a day. Teens are navigating how to take on more adult responsibility and a more intense academic load then they may have had in high school. They may not be able to check in each day like they did when they lived with you. My colleagues recommend discussing ahead of time how often you’d like to hear from your teen. Consider setting the expectation of at least a weekend FaceTime visit or real-time phone call or asking them to respond to your text messages before they go to sleep for the night. Ask your teen what they think is reasonable too.
- Pay attention and act interested when you do talk to your teen.You may have no idea what they’re talking about, but act interested anyway! They may be taking differential equations or an anthropology class. They’re organic chemistry lab may be something so different from your degree in business that it sounds like they’re speaking a foreign language. You may have no idea what they’re describing, but don’t check out. A friend’s daughter gave her mom this advice: even if you don’t understand what I’m saying, please act interested! Ask open ended questions and inquire about how they’re adjusting.
- Ask if they’re eating. A message I hear over and over again in my clinic appointments with college students is, “I don’t eat regularly.” Sometimes they simply forget because they’re schedules are not longer dictated by family dinner or Dad making their lunch. Other times they dislike the food offered in the cafeteria. Ask if they’re eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If they’re not, explore the reasons why and help them set up a schedule for how to fit in meals. After all, they’re using brain power, they’re likely walking everywhere (if they don’t have a car), and they’re still developing! All of this requires energy.
Even if your teen isn’t going off to college, they may be planning to move out on their own, go to a trade school, or join a branch of the military. These are all big life changes. Congratulations on the major accomplishment of successful parenting! If you have more tips, please share.