Heading off to college is an exciting milestone for teenagers. But leaving behind the routine of school and the comfort of living with parents can also be overwhelming.
Parents, you may find it difficult to let go of your children after years of taking care of them. But the time will come when your child is ready to head off to college, and because it’s such a big step, preparation is key for both you and your teen.
Why is it so nerve-racking?
For many teens, this will be a series of “firsts” – the first time they are living on their own, manage their own budget, set their own schedules, and possibly even live in a new city. Former school structures that teens are used to are no longer in place, and they will have to make new friends. This can be a very daunting prospect.
College will also present new academic pressures and social problems. Common issues include trouble managing assignments, projects, presentations and exams, anxiety about meeting family expectations, having low self-esteem, peer group pressure, homesickness that can lead to loneliness and depression, as well as procrastination and poor time management.
How can parents help?
Parents can assist their teenagers by encouraging them to start preparing well ahead of the college year.
- Starting out: Today, there is an overwhelming number of choices when it comes to career and course options. Your teen may need your help with their college applications and in choosing their path. Try making a list of all their skills and strengths and explore their interests and passions. If they have to fill out forms or write entrance essays, be sure to lend them support if needed. You can also help to connect them with seniors who can assist them with practical matters at the college.
- Accommodation: Talk to your teen about where they would be most comfortable living while they are in college. Should they move out of home and into a dorm, hostel or a shared home? If they have to move to another state, what would be their best options for accommodation?
- Basic life skills: You might also want to start coaching them on simple life skills, such as cooking, laundry, ironing and sewing. Many children may not realise how much effort goes into handling these daily chores, so it is best to give them a heads-up before they leave home.
- Money matters: Mentor your child early when it comes to managing money. If they don’t have a bank account yet, help them to open an account, get an ATM card and set up online banking. Show them how to use these tools properly, safely and responsibly. It is also good to let your child know how much college fees will amount to and how much allowance you will be able to support them with.
- Open communication: Encourage open channels of communication, so they can always turn to you if they need an advice. Advise your teenagers about making good decisions and avoiding high risk behaviours, e.g. substance abuse. Remind them to choose the right group of friends – having a good support system can either make or break them later on. But avoid dictating too much, since this is the best time to foster independence in your teen.
- Goals and balance: Talk to them also about setting goals. Set a reasonable target of academic achievement without imposing undue pressure. Advise them on how to balance their studies and extra-curricular activities, as well as part-time work, if that is something they would like to consider doing.
- Health and wellness: Don’t forget that physical and mental health should also be a priority. It would be a good idea to identify all your teens’ allergies and have the appropriate medication for them to take. It would be helpful also to identify a good clinic nearby their college or numbers to call in case of emergency.
In addition, make sure your teen gets all their vaccinations up to date before heading off to college. These should include meningococcal, pneumococcal and flu vaccinations, among others. Vaccination is essential to college students given how quickly diseases can spread in shared spaces like dormitories, lecture halls, and cafeterias.
Yes, preparing for college life can be nerve-racking but it is also an exciting time for both parents and teens. As you prepare for your teen to leave the nest, you can take steps to make this transition as smooth as possible. By preparing for it early and thoroughly, you can support your teen in a healthy way as they continue to grow into adulthood.