As regular readers of this column have likely noticed, I often write about life events that affect myself and my family. Since the start of the school year, I have discussed the college application process, how seniors can respond respectfully to the annoying “Where are you going to college?” question and, more recently, strategies to overcome senioritis. As you have probably guessed, I have an 18-year-old son who is getting ready to launch into his college years – a time of truly mixed emotions for the entire household.
My wife and I are very excited to see our son head to the East Coast to further his education, and our son can’t wait to start the next phase of life. However, all of us are also sad because college, to some degree, marks the end of our boy’s childhood.
During the time between college acceptance and the start of the semester, many previously respectful teens break rules, test limits and argue over minor issues. Many kids might be feeling sad to conclude this chapter of their lives, and some react by creating conflicts that will make separation easier for all. Parents should keep in mind this is developmentally appropriate and not a sign of a disintegrating relationship.
Despite growing communication frustrations, know that children still want parental guidance. Our job is to help our kids launch a new life, and many important discussions should take place before your son or daughter moves into his or her new campus home.
Money can be a big source of stress for college freshmen. Before teens leave for college, discuss fiscal responsibility for basics like books, pizza and social outings. I also strongly encourage families to provide a monthly allowance so students can learn to budget versus asking for money as needed. And make sure your child knows that getting a credit card, just because he or she can, can be a costly decision with long-term consequences.
Communication is often a big source of stress for parents. There is no right plan for how much texting and talking is appropriate, but it is helpful to clearly state expectations. Many families message daily and phone weekly. Take your teen’s lead, but it is reasonable to have a quick call every few days and a longer call or video chat every week.
Finally, discuss self-care. Make sure your child is well-supplied with hygiene products, as most will not spend their own money to buy a bar of soap. Most teens also need a quick tutorial on how to do laundry on their own. College freshmen are bound to be a bit disorganized and dirty, but personal upkeep is almost as important as making it to class.
Now is the time to start having these college conversations if you have not done so already. Ask your children about their concerns, listen to their worries and encourage your young adults to suggest solutions. Let your son or daughter know that you believe in his or her ability, and trust that you have a raised an intelligent individual who makes good decisions. Take a breath, and celebrate a job well-done.
Prior to going into private practice as a psychotherapist and learning-disabilities specialist, Russell Hyken, Ph.D., Ed.S., M.A., LPC, NCC, worked for more than 15 years as an English teacher, school counselor and school administrator. Visit him online at ed-psy.com.