The Late Teen Years: Meeting the Challenges of College (page 2)
As teens graduate from high school and enter a new stage in their personal, social, and academic lives, parents continue to play an important, although different, role in their lives. The characteristics that parents have instilled in their children in their formative years – a sense of discipline, ability to face new challenges, and a growing sense of independence – now form the basis on which parents assume a new role – that of consultant. In this position, parents can anticipate situations in which their advice and guidelines would be useful as their teens move on. A general guiding principle is to respect your teen’s independence and be supportive, but at a distance. Let your child know you’re there if needed.
In this issue of the CSC Letter, Dr. Richard Gallagher, Director of the Parenting Institute of the NYU Child Study Center, reviews some major issues involved in helping teens successfully meet the challenges of their college years. He discusses ways in which parents can prepare students to face new tasks: accommodating to the latest phase in the parent/teen interaction, adapting to the demands of a new and diverse environment, establishing new modes of communication, and making important decisions involving friendships, sexual relationships, and exposure to substance abuse. Helping teens develop a realistic balance of work, study, and social lives is also discussed. Dr. Gallagher stresses the importance of life skills such as the ability to delay gratification and to independently identify problems and generate potential solutions, and he presents strategies to strengthen these skills.
Parents can make a difference in their child’s late teen years, just as in other stages of their child’s life. Studies on the impact of parenting practices suggest that effective parents follow four basic principles: 1) Effective parents take actions that establish and maintain a positive relationship with their children. 2) Effective parents balance the positive contacts by providing effective guidance and using appropriate discipline with their children. 3) Effective parents have a good grasp of the challenges that children and teens encounter during a phase of development. 4) Effective parents help their children obtain skills to address the challenges that they will face. From infancy through young adulthood, parents that follow all four principles have children that are better adjusted, happier, and more successful in social, emotional, and learning endeavors.
Thoughtful parents can use these four basic principles to guide their actions at the end of their child’s teen years as well as in earlier stages. As children move on to college, parents can provide assistance even in the face of the typical nervousness, concerns about loneliness and homesickness, and new freedoms and responsibilities. When teens are getting ready to leave home for extended periods of time parents can take steps that will make their experience much more fulfilling and successful.
Let’s address some of the major issues to help you prepare and, in turn, help your child prepare for the college years.
Applying Principle 1
Establishing and Maintaining a Positive Relationship
To maintain a positive relationship with a college-aged child leaving home, parents have to be supportive, but at a distance. Teens want to be independent; they do not want parents to be concerned with all of the details of their lives. Stay close through talking; ask if your teen is ready to listen to some advice or ideas, but keep your own urge to talk, see the teen, or send a note in reasonable check. Teens are likely to retreat if parents demand frequent contacts in repeated, lengthy conversations about serious topics. In fact, parents can ask teens to let them know if they are feeling smothered or annoyed by the contact. Honest discussion of these concerns will help establish comfortable boundaries and foster closeness.
Stay in touch. Communication is an essential component in maintaining a positive relationship. As a family you need to consider how often and with what method you are going to communicate. In addition to cell phones and land lines, contact through e-mail accounts, instant messages, voice mail, and sometimes video chats are options to be considered. Negotiate the ways and the frequency with which you are going to communicate before school starts. Establish a system that allows you and your child to be in touch about routine as well as times when questions need to be answered or concerns have to be addressed. Emergency contact methods also have to be worked out.
Agreement should be reached about the frequency of contact, the reasons for contact, who initiates contact, and when someone has to return a contact. Parents often find themselves chasing their children, trying to get them to call back. Having a set time for contact on an agreed-upon schedule helps reduce that problem. As students and parents are adjusting to the new situation, contact every other day may be appropriate, but after the first few weeks, contact twice a week is probably more realistic.
As you negotiate these plans, remember that you and your children are navigating a new phase in your relationship. Your child will need some times alone to establish new relationships and a new schedule for school and leisure pursuits. Parents need to get used to the idea that they are no longer going to be involved in their child’s daily experiences as they were before. As a result, you may find yourself feeling lonely, worried, and underutilized. Be careful not to respond to these feelings by getting on the phone or leaving a voice mail or e-mail. Although you may believe that the way to handle these feelings is to reach out to your child, that may not be the best way in the long run. As you and your child are confronted with this new developmental challenge, you both need as many resources and as much time as possible to develop skills for managing that challenge. Find other ways to reassure yourself that your child is most likely doing fine and to reduce your own feelings of loneliness. In that way, you’ll grow into an effective parent who can be an adviser to your child, and who is able to see him stumble and grow. Older kids who are away from home for extended periods of time or are establishing new homes need time to work on their feelings of loneliness and develop their new social network and friendships. Overly frequent contacts from their parents may leave them less effective in confronting these new challenges. Remember that most people are extremely capable and adaptable. Millions of parents and kids have met this challenge before. There is no reason to believe that millions more, including you and your child, will not be able to meet it as well.
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.
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