When You See That Your College Kid Has Found Their Tribe

My son has been away at college for about a month now. Hard to believe, but the calendar doesn’t lie. Here at home, we are still adjusting to the reality of his being gone, each in our own way. And judging by his smile in every picture he’s texted, I believe our son is happier than he’s been in a long time.

My wife and I are so thrilled to see this. The high school years were not always happy ones for our son. He’s very outgoing and optimistic and gets along great with adults. I can’t count how many teachers and other parents told us over the years what a fine young man we were raising, but with kids it was a different story.

College friends

I don’t know about outright bullying, but I do know that he wasn’t very popular. He spent a lot of weekend evenings at home, the one place a teenager doesn’t want to be on a Saturday night. Some of this was his own doing, but I think most of it was due to our living in a town where dressing differently or listening to the wrong music is frowned upon. There’s a sort of Footloose mentality in this town that was here even when I was a teenager.

Several times, particularly during his junior and senior years, I told my son that things would be different on a college campus. In college, people are more open-minded. No matter what a person’s interests and likes are, he or she will find others with similar interests. College can change people into what they want to be, or into what they never even realized they wanted to be. As difficult as it is to believe at that age, high school doesn’t last forever. College is a whole new beginning, a fresh start.

During his junior year, our son began saying that he couldn’t wait to get out of high school. A familiar refrain among teenagers, yes, but I was concerned. Most kids want to finish high school and move on to something else. I was afraid that our son was more interested in getting away than in moving forward. There is a difference.

I wasn’t really concerned about where he went to college. My wife and I didn’t want him moving too far away, and we thought an in-state school would be good because of the lower costs. One thing I did suggest was that he not attend a small school. I thought that with his outgoing personality, a small college might bring about the same problems he had in high school.

After a month, things seem to going great. He’s found friends that he can hang out and play music with, and he’s already met a girl who he’s interested in. Last week, he texted a photo of himself with three or four other guys, each eating from a large pizza. The smile on his face was priceless. It’s been a long time since he’s looked so happy with a group of friends.

Here at home, we’re becoming accustomed to our new dynamic. Our ten-year-old son sends pictures to his big brother and texts him several times a week, although the conversations tend to be short because his brother is busy. My wife is having a bit of trouble letting go. She texts him several times a day and still has the location services set on his phone. My opinion is that an 18-year-old young man doesn’t need location services on his cellphone, but in this situation it’s probably best to keep my opinion to myself.

[More on how to stay close to your kids as they move away here.]

I’m having an easier time letting go, although I’ve become very nostalgic lately. I’m constantly saying things like, “Seth use to love this movie” or “Seth had shoes like that”, as though he’s left for a four-year tour of duty in a distant country. But this is how it’s supposed to be when kids get older; they move on. My son is moving forward. Most importantly, he’s finally happy. And as long as he’s happy, I’m happy.


College Freshman’s Miserable? Here’s What to Say 

Family Weekend: Do’s and Don’ts of Visiting a Kid in College 

How to Make Your College Care Package the Best Yet

More by Gary Sprague:

In My Son’s Empty Room: How Did it Go By So Fast?

How to Ruin Your High School Grad’s Last Summer of Freedom 

High School Graduation and the Heart-Rending Optimism of Youth 


About Gary Sprague

Gary Sprague is a freelance writer who lives in Maine with his wife and two sons. You can find him online at Twitter, Facebook and his blog, GarySpragueBooks.

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates straight to your inbox.