The day your teenager leaves for college is challenging on a number of levels. It’s hard to believe that bundle of joy who not that long ago was struggling to crawl across the carpet is now leaving the family home to live independently. Your heart is swelling with pride, but your brain is swirling with fears and concerns. You know you have to let go, and although it may not feel like it you’re going to be just fine. But perhaps you don’t know that your kid is just as conflicted as you are. Right now he’s nothing but excited, and who can blame him? But at some point, whether on the long car or plane ride or maybe during that first night away from home his own concerns and anxieties will arise. It’s a huge change, and won’t go off without a hitch even in the best case scenario. Luckily there’s a lot you can do to help things along. Here are a couple of tips you can use to help your kids adjust to life in college.
First of all, you should help him focus on healthy behaviors. It’s so easy to get run down at college, and packing on the ‘Freshman Fifteen’ or dealing with the flu or mono could put a real damper on your child’s first year. It’s going to be incredibly tempting to stay up late, drink gallons of coffee and eat junk food, and there’s certainly a place for that. But it all needs to be balanced out. Encourage him to maintain an exercise regimen, and make sure he’s well aware of the school’s gym facilities. Get him a bicycle, so he can take advantage of built-in exercise opportunities, and make sure he has plenty of money on his school cafeteria account so he always has healthy food options. And when you send care packages, sneak in some heathy snacks and vitamins along with those requested treats.
Adapting to college life can be a complicated struggle, and if things don’t go as your child hoped it can feel like he is totally on his own. The best thing you can do is remind him he’s not alone. Don’t be afraid to share some of your own college experiences, the good, the bad and the ugly. You might even ‘accidentally’ let slip an adult mistake you made back then. Your relationship with your child is changing, becoming more grown up, so sharing in a way that shows you’re not perfect may be just what he needs. And make sure your child knows you are there if he needs you. Send him off with an unlimited cell phone plan, or with a prepaid phone card so he can reach out whenever he wants.
There are also some practical changes that must be addressed. Your child will now be managing his finances and expenses in a more adult manner than ever before. Even if you are covering most of the college expenses, help him begin to embrace that experience. Set him up with a debit card connected to a joint account. Encourage him to start dealing with his monthly expenses, regardless of who is actually paying them. He’s got to get used to this adult responsibility, and getting into that flow right from the beginning of college will come in handy when it comes to juggling part-time jobs and making sure he has enough money to cover the expenses of each semester.
Finally, remind your child that there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. He’s not going to know it all when he heads off to school, and he shouldn’t expect to. Set up a conversation with a guidance counselor, and even consider joining him for the meeting. Most people don’t take their freshman year studies that seriously. But if your child has any sort of graduate program in mind, such as a masters degree in public health, his grades in even the most basic pre-requisite will be important. Help your child begin to think of his education as a tool to reach his lifelong goals, and that will give a meaning to all of the growing pains.