Nine Discussions To Have with Your Teen Before College

By Dr. Laura Markham

If your child is leaving for college soon, you’re probably both busy with shopping lists and health forms. You might well find yourself fighting about things that don’t matter, because the enormity of letting go of your child and wondering if he’s ready can make parents terribly anxious.

During the teen years, your relationship with your child has been steadily evolving. You’ve found yourself biting your tongue and letting go more and more, as your teen steps up to manage herself and her responsibilities. This is rarely a graceful dance, since teens can be mature one moment and thoughtless the next. But by the time she leaves your home, hopefully all the love and lessons you’ve shared will mean she’s ready for the next adventure.

So take a breath, have a private cry, and let go some more. Don’t increase his anxiety with your own. It’s important for him to make some of these decisions the way he wants to, no matter what you think. Every time you let him lead, that’s a vote of confidence in his maturity, and he’ll act more mature.

Then, start asking questions, listen much more than you talk, and have some really good discussions. Teaching him to do his laundry and buying a lamp for his dorm room may be important, but those tasks aren’t nearly as essential as helping him prepare, mentally and emotionally, for the life changes and rites of passage ahead. Here are nine discussions you’ll want to be sure you have with your teen before they head for college.

1. Tell your child how proud you are of him and how happy you are to be his parent

Explain that most of your job is done but that you will always be there if he needs you. Be sure he knows that you mean it when you say that he can call you 24/7 for any reason at all. Tell him you have confidence in his judgement.

2. Listen to your teen’s hopes, fears and expectations for college

Ask questions, listen, reassure, and brainstorm with her. Point out that this is a huge adjustment and she needs to nurture herself. Everyone goes through anxiety and homesickness as they adjust to college. The best cure is connecting with others who are feeling the same way. Does she feel comfortable making friends? Reaching out for help if she needs it? If she has roommate problems, who can she turn to? How can she support herself if she feels stressed or depressed? What routines and activities will help her?

3. Ask questions about academics

How will he choose which classes to take? Be sure that he’s taking at least two classes he will probably love, because at least one of his classes will likely be a disappointment. Explain that many students find college much harder than high school and need extra tutoring, help from professors, or regular visits to the writing lab. If he finds himself struggling academically, who can he go to for help? Tell him that getting to know professors can be life changing and ask how he might develop those relationships. Explain that sitting in the back of the class might feel safer, but that professors interpret that as a sign that he isn’t interested and isn’t doing the work. Over-focusing on grades often means students take easier classes and get less pleasure out of learning, so tell her you’d rather she focus on learning and expanding her horizons than worry about grades. Explain that while you don’t want her wasting your tuition dollars, her grades this first semester are not as important to you as her creating a balanced life for herself at college that includes healthy friendships and self nurturing. And since you won’t have legal access to her grades, discuss how she’ll feel most comfortable communicating with you about them.

4. Help your teen think through time management

Kids spend less time in class during college than they do in high school, but they’re expected to use that extra time studying, not fritter it away on screens. How will your teen organise himself? Where will he study and how much time does he expect to need per class? What extracurricular activities does he expect to do? How much partying does he expect to do? How much gaming? How will he be sure he doesn’t sleep through his alarm? Should he really take that 8am class or is that wishful thinking?

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