It's hard to believe that many parents will be seeing their teens off to college during the next few weeks. High schoolers will be turning into college students. As a mother and a clinical psychologist, I can talk about this experience from both personal and professional perspectives. Believe me when I tell you that this will be an experience full of many conflicting emotions. You will feel pride and joy as well as anxiety and a sense of loss. These are a set of normal emotional reactions and you are in the good and plentiful company of other parents. Teens, too, are experiencing conflicting emotions. I know this because they tell me. And, this time of year they are really opening up.
I remember dropping my then-18-year-old daughter off at college and thinking: Who are these strange people at this strange place and why am I giving them my daughter? I honestly had these thoughts. So, I understand the anxiety that parents have about packing up their kids and dropping them off at college. One minute your kids are under your roof and the next minute, you are sending them off to a strange new place to live on their own.
I have got to tell you that it is not only tough for the parents, but it is also hard on teens to make this transition. I have some advice for both the parents and teens.
For the parents:
1. Remind yourself that you are sending your teens to get an education and that you are not abandoning them.
2. Learn everything you can about their school so that you are in the know. Familiarity will produce comfort.
3. Control your own anxiety. Your teens take their cues from you and you certainly don't want to model anxiety for them, now do you?
4. Immerse yourself in new activities so that you don't spend your time worrying about your college freshmen.
5. Remember that you are not losing your kids you are simply watching them grow up.
For the parents to help the teens:
1. Let them know that you are always there for them. Set up a schedule of how frequently you will contact each other. Try not to communicate either excessively or not enough. An honest discussion should help you and your teens figure this out. The frequency can be re-visited after the first few weeks at school.
2. Encourage your teens to reach out to all sorts of new potential friends. They will have plenty of time to narrow down their preferred group of friends.
3. Encourage them to focus on friends first and romantic relationships later. You don't want them to get involved romantically too soon and make few or no friends.
4. Talk to them about making good and safe decisions. This includes looking out for themselves and friends.
5.Remind them that you are not expecting them to do everything perfectly. Yes, they will make some mistakes and perhaps some bad choices during their freshman year but that there will be time to repair things.
Most importantly, try as hard as you can to stay calm and to have trust and faith that freshman year will be a wonderful learning opportunity for everyone. Good luck!