Well, the time is finally here. After SATs, applications, campus tours, sleepless nights figuring out expenses, and those unforgettable “mailbox jitters,” your son or daughter is starting college. Once upon a time, perhaps it seemed like it would never come together ….and now, all of a sudden, s/he’s packing! Letting go is never easy, and offering support to your student during this transition can be complex and challenging. Parents and students alike are excited, but also a bit apprehensive.

“Will she get along with her roommate?” “How will he handle his studies…not to mention his money and laundry?” “She’s a bit shy… I want her to find friends and get involved!”
“It will seem so strange not to have him and all his friends around the house!”

“She’s fine….I’m the one who’s a wreck!”
College catapults your student into young adulthood…a time of intense exploration and growth, intellectually, personally, and emotionally. It will forever change your relationship and your family. It’s natural to feel confused, nervous, and a little sad, as well as proud and excited. You and your student have been working toward this goal for some time, and while college represents an ending of sorts, it is also a new beginning. Here are some tips to help everyone survive and thrive:  Acknowledge the challenges involved. College is a great opportunity, but it can also be lonely, scary and overwhelming, especially at first. Your student will face tough new academic, social and personal demands. Whether it shows on the outside or not, ALL first year students feel out of place…and many will protest that everybody else fits in and already has loads of friends (not true). Listen, accept and normalize their feelings. Support involvement in activities, clubs, athletics, and community service.  Don’t say “these are the best years of your life!” There is a name for folks who say this….they’re called graduates! Oh, the pressure…am I having fun yet? It’s easy to forget the uncertainty and stress of college when you reminisce about your own (past) experience or while you juggle the multiple demands of your own busy life. Your student may one day share your nostalgic memories of college life but it’s unlikely to happen this year.

 Keep your expectations realistic. Your honor roll student may earn Cs. Your “extrovert” may complain of homesickness. Bank accounts will be overdrawn and phone bills will mount up. Discuss expectations BEFORE leaving home…and expect some glitches.  Life 101 Help your student come to college with basic life skills: how to budget and use credit, how to clean their room and bath, and how to do laundry without turning underwear pink! They should also be familiar with simple food preparation and good health, wellness and safety habits.  Life 102 Talk with your student about alcohol, drugs, sexual values and behavior, and healthy relationships with roommates, friends and romantic partners. Even if you and your student hold different views, your support and understanding of the issues that today’s college students face are valuable and will be appreciated.  Stay in touch. Write, even if they don’t write back. Care packages (toiletries, healthy snacks, etc.) are always welcome! Be available, listen, be open and interested, but hold advice until it’s asked for and don’t be too inquisitive. What you intend as interest may be perceived as “control” and “lack of trust” by insecure first-year students!  Know when to visit (call first!)…and when to leave. On move-in day, help your student get settled in, say goodbye….and GO. Lingering makes separation harder for everyone. Visit Family Weekend if you can. Your student will be more at home by then and will likely be eager to introduce you to new friends, activities and hang-outs.  Expect the unexpected. Students returning home from college can confound the most tolerant parent. They may insist on testing limits and exercising new found independence, while still expecting the privileges of childhood. Talk about expectations and schedules. Remember, your student will be eager to see friends as well as spend time with family. Don’t schedule activities for him or her without prior discussion.  Take care of yourself and your relationships. College represents a myriad of stresses for parents, too. Letting go is as difficult as leaving the nest. Attend to health, rest, nutrition, exercise and relationships. Just as your student is exploring new experiences, consider new roles and activities for yourself.  Recommended Reading:


Letting Go: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding the College Years (4th.ed). Coburn and Treeger. New York: HarperCollins,


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