Going away to college is a sign that childhood is officially over. Now you and your child are shopping for those extra-long twin sheets, and figuring out how to pack one or more seasons of clothing. With proms, parties and graduations over, it’s the perfect time to prepare both student and parent for the emotional wrench of separation.
Preparing Your Child for Independent Living
Move-in day will be a whirlwind of activity. Don’t count on it as the time for a meaningful discussion of expectations. Be sure to schedule time well in advance for a serious talk.
Focus on these topics:
- Expectations to stay in college. Do you require a minimum GPA and class attendance? Discuss the implications of cheating and plagiarizing.
- Making the right choices. Underage drinking is prevalent in the college environment and socially acceptable, but can lead to binge drinking, drunk driving and drug use. Focus on how drinking and drugs can damage health and grades, as well being illegal.
- Sexual activity. Reiterate the concepts of safe sex and birth control.
- Personal safety. Talk about personal security on and off campus. Discuss the very real dangers of date rape and riding with impaired drivers.
- Stay healthy. Discuss the “Freshman 15,” caused by cafeteria fast food and late night pizza parties. Encourage your child to make smart food choices, and continue or begin new exercise programs.
- Resources. Being away from home for the first time can be stressful and emotionally challenging. Make sure your child has contact information for your EAP and understands how it works. Your child should also have knowledge of the college’s Student Assistance Plan as well as the campus counseling office.
You want your child to have a life-changing experience, but at the same time you need to prepare her for the many freedoms she’ll face.
Parents Need to Prepare Too
As the parent of a college student, you’ll deal with many feelings as summer moves toward autumn. Take a little time to prepare yourself for the emotional changes that you’ll experience as you wave good-bye to your child:
- Be prepared to be emotional. This is a big deal – after all, you and your child have lived together for 17 years. Let yourself experience loss, even grief. But choose your parting words carefully so as not to upset your teen, and save your tears for the car.
- Change your role to supporter. On move-in day, let your child find his own dorm room and introduce himself to the RA. Let him know you’re available 24/7 via texts, phone and emails, but don’t call often – let him call you. Give calm advice when asked.
- Be unobtrusive but prepared. Make sure you have important phone numbers like those of the RA, roommate and campus security.
- Be ready to relinquish control. Your child is out of your hands and will be making his own choices on friends, meals, drinking, sex and joining organizations. Have confidence that you’ve taught him to make the right choices.
- Embrace his quest for identity. Be patient, open-minded and flexible when he comes home for Thanksgiving with a tattoo.
Don’t forget those siblings remaining at home. This separation affects them too. Let younger children contribute items to a care package, and make sure they stay connected with emails and texting.
Parents Need Help Too
Keep your EAP in mind when personally dealing with this huge life change. Also, when you see managers and employees struggling with the emotions of a college separation, encourage a call to your EAP.