What to Discuss Before Your Child Goes to College
By: Sarah Daren, Guest Blogger
Being the parent of a young adult who’s about to go off to college can be difficult and scary. For almost two decades, you’ve done your best to teach them skills for the real world. Letting go can be one of the toughest things you’ll ever have to do, and you just have to trust them to make good decisions. Before you pack the truck and get them settled in their new dorm room, it’s crucial to give them some important advice to help during this tough transition. The following four tips are key.
College is a huge step up academically. With that, comes the pressure of making new friends, learning how to manage your time, and taking care of yourself. Unsurprisingly, this leads to anxiety for many college freshmen, causing students to feel overwhelmed. Before sending your kid off to college, talk to them about how anxiety could affect their health, happiness, and grades. Talk to them about learning how to recognize anxiety triggers and managing it with strategies like exercise, journaling, or meditation. Let them know that you are always willing to help if they’re dealing with overwhelming anxiety.
Maintaining Healthy Habits
We’ve all heard jokes about the Freshman 15, but it’s no laughing matter—lots of students gain weight during their first year of college. About a quarter of students gain around 10 pounds during the first semester alone. That can lead to health problems and other issues down the line.
Dining hall food doesn’t always include healthy options. For the first time for many students, they have their choice of what (and how much) to eat. Others may skip the dining hall altogether for the convenience of pop-tarts and ramen. Beyond junk food, students spend lots of time studying and tend to exercise less.
It’s important to acknowledge the reality of the Freshman 15 before the semester starts. Talk to your child about making healthy choices at the dining hall, staying active, and regulating portions. They’ll be responsible for their own lifestyle choices in college, and they need to understand the potential consequences of unhealthy habits.
Families vary in how they handle finances, but that’s no excuse for students to go off to college without basic financial literacy. Many young adults accumulate a huge amount of student debt (an average of around $30,000) but have no idea how to budget or manage their finances once they’re on their own. Student debt often doesn’t feel like “real” money and overspending is common.
You should ensure that your student understands what the costs and responsibilities of attending college involve before they start. Agree on a plan where costs are managed, checking in regularly if need be. Students may need more or less supervision when it comes to money, but it’s important to be open and communicative about the issue.
Making Mindful Choices
No parent likes to think that their child could struggle with substance abuse, but it’s important not to turn a blind eye. College peer pressure, stress, academic demands, and curiosity are powerful forces leading students to try alcohol and drugs for the first time. This is a tough conversation to have, albeit an important one. Be mindful that forbidding your child from using substances can cause feelings of rebellion, especially once they’re on their own. Instead, try to discuss the dangers of substance abuse, encourage them to make good choices, and respect their ability to make adult decisions.
The first year of college is hard for both parents and students. Give your child space, but let them know that you’re there for them if they ever need any help or advice. Letting go is hard, but it doesn’t happen all at once. Be kind to yourself as you process your feelings and remember that this isn’t goodbye—it’s just a new phase.