Surviving D-Day - PREPARING FOR YOUR TEEN'S FIRST-TIME DEPARTURE FOR COLLEGE
by Myrna Beth Haskell
My brother left for college a year before I did. I cried on and off for most of the ride home. This is not a good sign. It’s also not a good sign that I welled up with tears at my son’s last concert during the wind ensemble’s performance of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” My son leaves for the big city in late August. He is leaving cow country and mom’s lasagna for a high rise and a hotdog cart. I have a whole range of emotions – everything from excitement and pride to fear and melancholy.
The next school year will surely bring enormous change for everyone involved – for my daughter who will be the lone child, for my husband and I who will have fewer school events to go to, and for our dog, my son’s best friend, whom I envision sleeping by the door until he comes home for Thanksgiving. However, we all need to keep our emotions at bay for my son’s sake. I’ve been worried about this impending day for months now, but I’m determined to handle it well – with a detailed list and an upbeat attitude.
Suzanne Howell, director of residential life and housing at Binghamton University, explains, “As the summer gets into full swing, parents may notice differences in their son or daughter, themselves, and other family members as everyone prepares for the student’s first time at college and living away from home.”
Howell tells parents to be prepared that their teen will want to also spend time with friends. “To avoid hurt feelings, parents can set aside ‘family time’ – a vacation, weekly family dinner, or even weekly college shopping!”
Parents should be involved in the physical preparation for college as well. Amy Przeworski, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, suggests that parents help their teens purchase necessities for college. She also recommends buying a special present that will remind a teen of home. “This could be a picture frame with a family photo or a nice print for their dorm wall.”
Keep it Positive
Your teen surely has conflicting emotions as well, so parents should encourage an optimistic outlook. Lisa Greenberg, PhD, a licensed psychologist and parenting expert in Madison, NJ, advises, “Parents should know that it’s not the end of the world if they get a little teary when they drop their child off at college. On the other hand, if a parent is concerned about falling apart, it might be helpful to warn the student in advance.” Greenberg stresses that students shouldn’t feel responsible for cheering their parents up. Parents can help by keeping the focus on their teen and his positive energy.
Przeworski agrees. “This is a wonderful opportunity for teens to learn, experience new people, and gain independence. A teen leaving for college should be a joyful event.” Przeworski says that it’s typical for parents to feel sad, but they should try to emphasize the excitement surrounding going to college instead of negative emotions.
Parents should also validate their teen’s feelings. “Most teens have mixed feelings about going to school. If a teen is worried, telling them not to worry does not help,” reports Przeworski. She suggests that parents tell their teen it’s normal to have mixed emotions.
Howell reminds us that everyone handles change differently. “Simply being aware of and respecting each other’s feelings about this transition is a great start,” she adds.
Parents should be aware that they will not have the same level of communication with the school or their teen. “This is a point where parents need to take a step back from the center of their child’s life,” explains Greenberg.
“At the university level, communication goes directly to the student. Parents can set clear expectations with their teen about communication they expect to be notified of promptly (i.e. tuition, deadlines, grades, etc.) and communication their teen can choose not to share,” suggests Howell. She explains that holding a young adult to a higher level of responsibility will help him have a more successful college experience.
Myrna Beth Haskell is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Rochester Area & Genesee Valley Parent Magazine who lives in Salt Point, NY. She is the mother of two teenagers and specializes in parenting issues and children's development.
TIPS AND TALES
“Give a quick hug and kiss and then walk away. Don’t go back for another goodbye. If you want to listen to music on the way home, make sure they are happy tunes. – Beth Ackerman Staatsburg, NY
“I thought leaving my first born at FIT in Manhattan would be a very sad day, but I brought a book to read on the way home. This kept me from dwelling on the fact that we just left her.” – Terri Brown Mayfield, NY