Senior year is momentous for many reasons, not the least of which is the college application process. Plus there are all those ‘lasts’—the last homecoming, the last football game, and finally, the last day. Before you can say “STOP!” your child will be leaving for college and independent life as an adult. After a lifetime of nurturing and protecting your child, you’ll hand him over to the big wide world. Scary.
In-between worrying, you’ve got a lot to do to prepare your child for college life. Here, we’ve highlighted the preparations you must make, the conversations you must have, and the things you must consider before you leave your ‘baby’ on campus and drive away. And don’t fret: I’ve sent two kids off myself, and we all survived the process.
It’s a big world out there and not everyone in it is nice. Discuss safety with your child. It’s not safe to walk on campus alone late at night, check. It’s not wise to leave your personal things unattended in the library, check. Have the harder conversations as well. Discuss drinking and drug use. Discuss the necessity of contacting campus security if a roommate overindulges. Remind your child that he will be thrust into situations that are uncomfortable, unpleasant and frightening, sometimes all at once. Make sure he knows how to deal with those times.
Most college age students remain covered under family health insurance policies. Make sure your child has a health coverage ID card. If your child takes daily medication, make sure she knows how to order refills and make it her responsibility to do so. Encourage your child to plan physical activities as part of her day. Papers come due and final exams hang over her head, but a half hour break at the gym or the pool is a great stress reliever. Teach your child to make healthy food choices, especially since fast food options abound in campus dining halls. The ‘Freshman 15’ is no myth—a lot of students, young women especially, really do pack on the pounds when they are no longer eating balanced meals at home. Finally, have the hardest conversation for most parents; discuss sexual relations and teach your child how to protect herself from disease. I speak from experience: This conversation is best held in a moving car when it’s just the two of you, and your child cannot walk away in horror.
Set up a budget with your child and insist he keep to it. Establish what you will pay for your child and what he is expected to pay for himself through part time work. Set up a bank account which both of you can access. This is an easy way to deposit funds and keep an eye on what he’s spending. If you want your child to have a credit card for emergency use, discuss what constitutes an emergency. A repair on the laptop; emergency. Friday night dinner at the burger place with friends, not so much. Set a monthly limit on the credit card. Discourage your child from taking advantage of those predatory credit card offers so readily available to incoming freshman.
In high school, if your child overslept and was late to class, you probably heard about it. In college, if your child sleeps through her morning classes, no one will know until grades come out. As your child has to learn to budget her money, she also need to learn to budget her time. There is time for classes, friends, sports and study. Learning to use time wisely is the key, not only to college but to life.
It’s a big world out there; hopefully your child will want to embrace all of it—well, the good parts of it, anyway. College is the time for your child have new experiences, learn new things and see that the world is much larger than the high school and community he left behind. Whether it’s a new sport or a new club, a volunteer opportunity or a career he never considered, encourage your student to keep an open mind and a healthy sense of optimism. The days of dorm life and finals will pass just as quickly as high school did. What he learns in college—outside the classroom—is just important as the classes he takes.
College life is a model for the real world; it’s filled with memorable characters. Some will become friends for life, and more will become distant memories. After growing up with the same circle of friends, your child will be surrounded by strangers. Make sure she knows what avenues are open to resolving roommate issues, or how to address bullying, hazing or an overly aggressive suitor. Teach her to speak up for herself and maintain her values and integrity.
For 18 years, we parents had the opportunity to teach, encourage and nurture. Remember that your influence is still there; that the lessons taught over the years really did sink in. Recognize that your child will make mistakes, be hurt, and will mature, almost before your very eyes. Rejoice in the wonderful person your child has become. You dropped him off on the first day of kindergarten and survived that separation—you can do this too.
Editor’s Note: The following article is one in a series presented in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month and designed to help parents prepare to send their kids off to college, brought to you by www.colgate.com/hazlau.