Making the Transition to College: A Guide for Parents
Leaving for college is a major transition for both the teenager and the entire family. Some children may live at home or attend school nearby, whereas others may be relocating to different parts of the country. Regardless, going to college symbolizes that teenagers are separating from their parents and moving into adulthood. The transition to college, no matter how exciting, can also bring up feelings of sadness, loss, and concern to parents and children. In particular, children with a history of psychological difficulties, trauma, or loss may experience increased anxiety about such a major transition, and may worry about family members they are leaving behind. Parents may also have difficulty letting go, even though they are excited about their children's future. The following are some specific guidelines on preparing adolescents and their parents for college life.
Tips for Parents with Adolescents Preparing for College
- Talk to your child. Openly discuss any concerns and fears your child has before leaving for college. Talk about your adolescent's thoughts and feelings regarding leaving the comfort and familiarity of school, friends, and routines. It is also important to express your expectations related to academic achievement, financial responsibility, safety precautions, and any other concerns with your child.
- Educate. Your adolescent is likely to face increased social pressures in college, with less adult supervision. Talk to your child in advance about sex, drugs, and alcohol on campus, and explain the consequences of risk-taking behaviors. Discuss ways in which your college student can ensure his/her safety while fully experiencing college life. It is helpful for your child to hear your perspective and point of view.
- Provide reassurance. Your adolescent may be concerned about how the family will function in his or her absence. Assure your child that although he/she will be greatly missed, both you and other family members will be okay. Express excitement and support for your college student in this important life transition. Respond positively to your college bound student's aspirations and expectations and, if applicable, share similar experiences from your college life.
- Engage in open communication. It is important that you address your college student's concerns and invite questions. The key is for you to create an environment in which your child feels supported and listened to, and that you are available to talk at any time. Show your child that you understand how he/she is feeling and he/she is being heard. For example, you can say: "I can see that you are nervous about leaving for school."
- Be proactive. Create a safety plan with your college student for the rare case of an emergency. Help your child create a list of emergency contacts and nearby supports, including the university counseling service, campus security, and health services phone numbers. Identify family members or friends who live closer to the college campus as emergency contacts. Set up a financial and practical plan for your college student to be able to return home in case of an emergency. Planning ahead will give both you and your child a sense of security and control regarding the transition to college.
- Make sure your child knows that help is always available. If your child has a specific need, investigate and inquire about available resources in the college campus' surrounding town or city. Specifically, if your college student requires services for a physical disability, learning disability, or psychological problem, plan ahead to ensure that necessary services are in place after your child moves to college. Make sure to include your college student in the decisions made regarding his/her treatment and special accommodations.
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.
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