Supporting Your College Bound Teen

back-blurred-background-buildings-2040889Time has flown by, and your little one is now nearing adulthood and getting ready to leave the nest.  For some teens, this is an exciting time.  For others, it can be excitement mixed with a lot of angst and nervousness about what is to come.  So, how can parents, in the midst of their own feelings about their child getting ready to venture into the world, be supportive and engaged in a positive and healthy way?

1. Cherish the time.  Don’t let their independence fool you into thinking that they won’t benefit from continued one on one time and family time.  I can’t tell you how many parents come in and say to me, “Well, she is off doing her own thing most of the time and wouldn’t want time with me.”

Whether a teen places value on family time or not doesn’t change my recommendation.  Make it happen.  It may look different at this age.  The way we spend our time with our children evolves as life changes.  It may now be shopping, eating out, going to the movies, or watching a show together.  That is okay!  If your teen wants to bring you into her life in any capacity, you should welcome it and be present.  If she is pushing you away a bit, find the wiggle room to squeeze in and stay active in her life.

2. This is a great age to rely on mom and dad’s old school comfort measures. 

Most teens do have some angst about leaving home.  Take the time to cook your teen’s favorite lasagna, put the blanket over her when sickness strikes and put some good old chicken soup on the stove.  Revisit some places that have had good memories for your family over the years.  She is getting ready to enter the big wide world and knowing that family is still the same and home is secure is always a HUGE comfort.

3. Visit the college your child will attend at least once between acceptance and move in. 

Help her get a ‘lay of the land’ by spending time in her future college town, visiting landmarks, going out to local restaurants, and visiting landmarks.  Share in her excitement, even though you may cry behind the scenes!

4. Go shopping for her dorm room together!

Spend time shopping in stores to help get her dorm room ready.  This may be your last time shopping to spruce up her space! Next time, a future spouse may be the shopping date!  Teens get excited thinking about what their room will look like and picking out decor for their first place!

5. Have conversation around the “what if’s”. 

Teens head off to freshman year hoping for amazing roommates and wishing for the best academic success.  Be sure your teen knows that if things don’t go as expected, she can work through it.  Talk about what to do ahead of time in the event her roommate isn’t who she’d hoped for, or if academics seem tough or her schedule too heavy.  A lot of teens leave mid-freshman year because of feeling disillusioned by things that can be addressed easily.  College campuses have plenty of ways to provide academic, social, and emotional support and yet you’d be surprised how many teens don’t know that!

6. Plan a senior vacation.

This is a great time to take the vacation you all have been wanting to take for a long time, or the road trip you’ve always dreamed about.  Spend the summer before college traveling and making the best family memories you can.  Think of this as your grand send off, a time that you and your teen will always look back on as a rite of passage.

7. Once school is in, come in to town and take your teen and her friends to dinner or to a sports game or college event.

It is a  great way to be in tune with her new college life.  Taking her friends out shows interest in her life and new relationships.  It is a great way to connect.

8. Send frequent care packages.

A basket full of homemade goodies or late night snacks, a cozy blanket and a photograph of family, a gift card to a campus coffee shop- all of these are great little ways to tell her that you are thinking of her.   When extended family ask for ways to support her, recommend care packages.  There is nothing like getting a package of grandma’s homemade cookies in the mail while studying for finals!

9. Make college vacations memorable.

When your teen comes home from college, make it a time to focus on welcoming her home.  Take time off work, be present and enjoy hearing about her college life, and make her space comfy and cozy.  Plan some fun trips that you all can enjoy as adults now!

10. Take care of yourself. 

When your child leaves for college, it can be hard to get used to not having her at home.  I see many parents struggling with empty nest syndrome, and I can tell you it can certainly be a grieving process for some.  Have grace for yourself.

Find enjoyment in new things, and fill your time up with friends, travel, hobbies, or whatever makes you happy.  Make an intentional effort to do so.  Talk and process what it is like to have your teen away from home.  Plan ahead for times when you all will be together so that you have that to look forward to.

Remind yourself of the beautiful season you’ve been in for 18 years, and that life will now transition into another wonderful season, filled with fresh and new memories you will make with your adult child!

“11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” -Jeremiah 29:11