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High School-to-College Transition

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It’s hard to believe we are heading into the fall “back to school” season already. For a select group of parents and teens, this year brings a different transition to navigate. These families are facing a child’s freshman year at college. The bags are packed, dorm assignments are in hand and moving day is scheduled.

There are many resources for the college freshman regarding what to expect and tips for survival. What about the parents? Far fewer guides are available for parents wondering, “How do I help my child make a successful transition? How do I help myself make a successful transition?” Below are a few tips to help ease the way.

Assisting your child

• Moving from your home is a significant emotional event for your son or daughter. It symbolizes the end of childhood and the beginning of adult life. Expect a variety of emotions from your college freshman. He or she may seem aloof and distant during phone calls and then emotionally regress and appear needy during visits home. Emotional separation from parents is a process, so allow for some ups and downs.

• The wide array of activities and options on a college campus can be daunting. Encourage your child to participate in what campus life has to offer. At the same time discuss how to prioritize when activities and responsibilities compete for his time and attention.

• Be aware of the pressure. College freshmen report feeling stress over academics and the need to choose a career path. Many freshmen have not settled on what they want to “do” but feel they are surrounded by people who have a specific career or degree in mind. Competition over grades can emerge between friends, putting a strain on new relationships.

• Talk about issues like binge drinking, drug use and casual sex. College freshmen will see peers engaging in all of the above. What may appear as glamorous, adult, independent behavior is laden with unanticipated consequences and realities. Make sure to discuss these with your child prior to and during their academic year.

• Staying connected to family is important. Having an emotionally familiar place is comforting. Send your child care packages, e-mails and family pictures. Update them on siblings’ activities and the daily happenings of family members.

Helping yourself

• A child moving from your home is a significant emotional event for you as well and parents also experience a variety of emotions. It’s OK to feel sad, it’s OK to feel relieved. You have entered a new phase with your child. Allow yourself to reflect on parts of the past you will miss, but also look forward to a new type of relationship.

• Plan something for the fall to look forward to. Parents sometimes feel let down once a child has moved into the college dorm. The weeks of planning and anticipation are over and now what? Having something fun planned can help.

• Communicate your expectations. Parents often make financial sacrifices to send a child to college. If you are paying, do you have requirements for a certain academic performance? Don’t use finances as a threat, but be clear about what you expect for the money you are spending. No parent wants to feel all those hours of overtime are financing a year of parties and socializing over classes and studying.

• Refocus your own life. If a child entering college has left you with more free time, consider how you want to use it. Perhaps you can get back to a hobby that’s been neglected or spend more time with your spouse. Having an “empty nest” is a great time to pursue your interests and pastimes.

The transition from high school to college is an exciting time for teens and parents. New experiences are on the horizon for everyone. The aforementioned suggestions can help parents have a successful “back to school” experience of their own.                                          

Cary and Tonja Rector are married and live with their children in Manlius. Cary is a licensed mental health counselor and Tonja is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Write to them in care of editorial@familytimes.biz. Consult your own health care provider before making decisions affecting your family’s well-being. To comment on this article, write to editorial@familytimes.biz.

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