When my daughter began the college search process as a high school junior, it was an exciting time busy with SAT/ACT preparations, school visits and dreams about the new experiences she would have upon graduating from high school. Fast forward to the month before she was to move into her new dorm at a nearby university and the feelings were a little bit different. Still excited, but lots of nervous energy and fear of the unknown.
Packing up her clothes and favorite personal items to take to school seemed to bring home the reality that her life was changing and her role within our home wouldn’t quite be the same again. Once she moved into her new digs and began classes the transition into that first year of school was met with some difficulties and emotions that she didn’t anticipate, requiring her to seek out support to stay on track.
The process of getting ready for college can be a time of true excitement for what’s to come, and yet it is a big life transition that we often forget to fully acknowledge.
Adjusting to life away from home, managing a challenging academic load, balancing part-time or even full-time work, while also trying to make friends in an unfamiliar environment is overwhelming. While big life changes are often exciting and positive, they can also be associated with intense feelings of anxiety, insecurity, and overwhelm. As adults we have experienced many transitions over the course of our lives, but have developed useful skills and resources that help us to move forward.
Providing some guidance to our kids as they develop these abilities will help insure that they move into adulthood feeling empowered and capable.
As much as our teenagers say they can’t wait to move-out and are ready to get on with the next big chapter, the reality is that leaving home can be an extremely difficult time for many, and your child may be Ill-prepared for the academic, social, and emotional challenges that college life will surely bring.
I am especially concerned about the rising rates of depression and anxiety that we continue to hear about in our young people today. Research from the National Institutes of Health indicates rising rates of mental health and substance abuse problems in college students, and many of those individuals may go without receiving any treatment. Equipping our kids with skills, strategies and access to local resources prior to heading off to school can help to ease their anxiety and improve the likelihood of a smooth transition.
Here are 5 recommendations for how you can help your kids prepare and transition successfully into the college years.
How to Help Your Teen Make the Transition to College
Encourage your child to talk about their expectations and fears before they leave.
What are they most excited about? How do they feel about moving away from home? What are they the most afraid of? Your child needs to know that they can talk to you about their thoughts and feelings without judgement. Be a good listener, and ask first before offering advice. They may just need time to process everything. There’s a lot that they are thinking about.
Help them to feel empowered as young adults.
Time management, organizational habits, self-care, and asking for help are important skills that will increase the likelihood of a positive transition. Guide your child as they brainstorm about resources and solutions that may support them in these areas. College professors and faculty do not expect students to come to school as full-fledged adults with all things figured out. Remind your child of this. However, professors do expect that students will come to them when they have a problem or need support, and they generally don’t want to hear from parents.
Encourage your child to get to know their professors and know when they hold office hours. If your child really seems to be having difficulties that they are unable to figure out on their own, then it is ok to step in and help them access campus resources for mental health or academic support. Listen to your gut. We want to encourage our kids to begin solving problems on their own and to feel capable of doing so, yet they are still kids and there may be circumstances that require you as a parent to get more involved.
Once your child leaves for school, don’t hover.
This is especially difficult in today’s world of text messaging and social media. It’s possible for us to stay connected to our college kids all of the time, but this is not what your child needs to begin to find their path at school. I’m a parent of a college kid too, and admit this has been a hard one for me. Reach out once in a while, but know that your child will contact you if they need something. They need that space to grow and figure things out on their own. When you do connect assess how things are going by asking what they are learning in their classes and if they have connected with some new friends.
My daughter is less than 30 minutes from home, but she has still experienced some homesickness. Receiving a special treat in the mail is a fun reminder that they are loved and missed. Consider a care package before finals week with some encouraging words and healthy snacks, or a special treat during a holiday. My mom used to bake me chocolate chip cookies and mail them in a shoe box. My friends and I would gobble them up right away, and even though it’s been 30 years, I will always remember that special gesture.
Understand that success in college may come with some major bumps in the road.
Part of the process of going to school includes exploring new interests, struggling through challenging classes, dealing with difficult roommates, and maybe even bombing a test or two. As much as we want our kids to ace all of their classes and enjoy a smooth ride, it is normal and healthy to experience failure too. When kids can learn to bounce back from difficulty they are going to be all the more prepared and independent as they enter adulthood. Encourage and love them as they come to these bumps, guide them to find healthy solutions and helpful resources, and enjoy the process of watching them mature as independent and responsible young adults.
Graduating from high school and beginning a new chapter in college is an exciting time for your child and your family, that can also be fraught with a lot of mixed emotions and uncertainty. With proper guidance and encouragement your child can have a successful transition into college life and you will be amazed by their transformation as they develop into happy and healthy adults.
Yvette Morton is an education and wellness coach who specializes in guiding teens and young adults to encourage positive development and healthy lifelong habits. She lives in Colorado with her husband and three kids. You can learn more about her at www.yvettemorton.com