Much has been written about preparing for college: college visits, essays, financial aid, college applications, and all the college-related tasks. But preparing your teen for college is so much more than the admissions tasks. You give your child a helping hand when riding a bike. Why would you not prepare your student for the emotions of college?
Your child needs some “mean” emotional skills before move-in day, as evidenced by all the college kids calling their parents to say, “I don’t like it here. Can I come home?”.
We can all learn some lessons from today’s college students and their parents. Before your student leaves for college, add these to your college prep list:
Teach him to self-advocate
It could happen on the first day of college. Your student needs help. He needs to speak with an advisor. Talk with a professor. Have a conversation with the RA. If he constantly runs to you for help in high school, how will he ever learn to advocate for himself? Before he leaves, let him practice. When a situation arises that you would normally resolve for him, let him have the reigns. He will be faced with multiple situations in college when this skill will come in handy.
Teach him to resolve conflict
Roommate conflict is the number one reason students are unhappy the first few weeks of college. Being placed with a roommate that does not match your student’s personality and habits can be overwhelming. Let your student resolve conflict while living at home. Encourage him to work things out with his siblings. When a problem with a friend, teacher or other adult arises, give him the chance to resolve the conflict. Teach him to start with the source and if the conflict is not resolved, move on to the next available source of help: i.e student, teacher, principal, superintendent. If he goes to college with this emotional skill he will be less likely to “phone home” every time a conflict with someone arises.
Encourage him to find and use a support group
Students who sit in their room alone day after day will not survive in college. They need a support group: friends to turn to when they are homesick or struggling. The social aspect of college is key to surviving four years away from home. Before he leaves for college, encourage him to make friends, meet new people, and develop some social skills. Going to college far from the comfort of home and not knowing anyone can be a deal-breaker for the shy, uninvolved student.
Teach him to recognize dangerous behavior and avoid it
There are going to be opportunities in college to participate in dangerous behavior: drinking, drugs, hooking up, and reckless driving to name a few. Give him the tools he needs to recognize and avoid the consequences of these behaviors. For instance, students do not have to drink to party with friends. They don’t need to avoid parties just because there is drinking. You can have fun without getting wasted. Before leaving for college teach him to recognize this type of behavior and makes plans to avoid them.
Send him places without you
So many first time college students have never been away from home without parents. Make it a practice to encourage summer camps and traveling with trusted friends. A few weeks away from home gives them a taste of what life is like on their own. These trips away also give them a chance to be on their own and make decisions as they go through their day. It’s structured, but not so much that they are sheltered by their family.
Preparing your student for the emotional aspect of college will be best for him and for you. If he’s ready to venture out on his own, you will be less stressed about dropping him off on move-in day. And you most likely won’t receive the dreaded phone call: “I want to come home.”