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Is Your Teen Heading Off to College? Tips for Parents

1. Discuss your expectations.

Talk about practical things (money, responsibilities, rules) AND emotional things (fears, hopes, desires). First talk together as parents and get on the same page. Then talk with your son or daughter about their expectations and feelings regarding what they envision for college life. Listen to each other. Brainstorm, negotiate, and problem solve until you have the plan that you all feel reasonably positive about. Don't get too far ahead of yourselves, stay with just the first few months goals!

If you are going to be helping to move your son or daughter into a dorm, sit down and discuss expectations for the move-in weekend itself. Be sure to include the practical things (Who will do what during the move, how much will it cost, what will the time schedule be?). Then discuss your emotional goals for the weekend (Are you hoping for a warm, family-time weekend, a last minute cram course of things you want to teach your student, or a serious "You're independent now, don't screw this up" tone?).

If your student is staying local or living at home, you will have less pressure to accomplish everything in a weekend, but still make time for the planning and discussion about what you expect life to be like now that your teen is in college.

2. Locate the resources on campus and nearby.

Take the time to walk the area if you can. Don't stop with the dorm, cafeteria and the library. Find the health center/pharmacy, ATM/banks, recreation centers, and student counseling centers. Know their hours and what they have to offer. Many times I see freshman who have caused themselves setbacks because they didn't ask for help!

3. Remember that this is your teen's experience.

They will want to do things their own way. Even if you think they are making a mistake, don't forget that learning from one's own mistakes is valuable!

4. Support your teen as needed.

The "as needed" part is key. Try to strike a balance between over-helping or under-helping! What can your teen expect from you as far as financial support, emotional support, and support with workloads. Make sure you reliably keep your commitments and give a heads up if your circumstances change.

Similarly, what changes might occur in support you expect from your teen. If they are living at home, are you prepared for them to miss some family events, not be able to help out with siblings, or have a messier room due to college responsibilities without feeling like you are running a free bed and breakfast?

5. Try to celebrate and enjoy this transition time.

You have successfully raised a son or daughter and they are entering college. Trust that you gave them what they need to succeed. It may feel like you are never going to see them again, but feelings are not facts. Parent's weekend and Thanksgiving break are right around the corner!