Two years ago my oldest graduated college, but I can still picture her walking back to her dorm after we said our goodbyes on move-in day. I cried on-and-off during the long ride home, and the first night we sat down to dinner without her. Parents prepare for this moment for 18 years, but when the big day arrives, we still find it hard to let go. From Day One, remind yourself that Parents’ Weekend is only six weeks away.
This is the second of two posts on surviving the run-up to freshman year without making yourself crazy, including the surprising things I learned along the way. Part one is the essential summer to-do list and part two focuses on what to expect at move-in day and beyond.
Here is what to expect on drop-off day and the first few weeks after:
Unlike the free-for-all most of us experienced, move-in day is now a well-organized affair with assigned arrival times. If your teen receives an afternoon assignment, expect that he’ll have less storage, the lumpier bunk and the desk with the wobbly chair. Don’t stress. Remember, dorm life is about learning to share space and get along with someone new.
Colleges don’t like parents to stick around. Basically, it’ll take you half a day to unpack the car, shop for forgotten items, get something to eat, stroll around campus, give those hugs and kisses and say goodbye. Then it’s time to start the next phase of all your lives.
Dorm Life Hints
It’s easier to be the new kid when everyone else is, too. Choose the all-freshman dorm option.
Remind your freshman to be open to the roommate experience instead of fearful of the unknown.
Our kids have grown up in a time when you never lose touch with your friends from home because of texting and social media. Prepare your teen for the challenges of making new friends and encourage him to make the effort himself. Strongly suggest he look up from his phone or laptop, open his door once in a while and take the earbuds out of his ears.
Though a bathroom in a dorm room is more appealing than sharing one down the hall with a bunch of other kids, your freshman will meet more of her floor-mates in the big one while brushing her teeth.
If your freshman is an out-of-state student at a college dominated by in-staters, he might have to put extra effort into making friends since many of the in-state kids already know people on campus. Joining at least one club and/or signing up for dorm activities like intramurals can help a lot.
Be aware that if family dinners are the norm in your house, your teen might find it strange that her roommate or some of her floor-mates are perfectly fine eating alone.
The Adjustment Period
Some kids love college from the first day and others need time to realize that they made the right choice. My daughter found the first few weeks very difficult. I experienced sleepless nights wondering when we’d know if we should bring her home, where she could transfer to and how she’d recover from the experience. By the time Parents’ Weekend rolled around, she’d adjusted.
But it’s hard to know when your child is just homesick and when she’s experiencing something more, like depression. Check out my post on how to know the difference.
Staying In Touch
Cell phones make it easy to keep in constant contact with our children. I suggest letting your freshman call you. If you really need to reach your teen, text. I had one child who called regularly and another randomly. For some families, it works to have a scheduled time to talk, like Wednesday night or Sunday afternoon.
Follow your teen on social media if she tends not to call. Seeing that she’s posting or tweeting will give you a sense of how she’s doing. But do not comment, like or favorite anything, especially the college-related stuff.
College students keep odd hours meaning you’ll receive calls or texts at various times, like after midnight because that’s when he’s taking a study break, especially if his first class isn’t until noon later that day.
Despite what we read and hear about in the news, colleges are generally safe places. But sexual assault is still a serious problem. Thankfully, schools are finally addressing it. Students beginning college over the next few years should be the recipients of this new heightened awareness and new measures to combat this serious campus crime.
That being said, campus crimes often involve drugs and alcohol, so it really is important to have that talk with your teen. Maybe you experimented a lot in college and look at it as you survived. That doesn’t cut it anymore. Binge drinking is too much a part of campus culture, weed is stronger than it was 30 years ago and prescription drugs are easily accessible. Plus now we understand the importance of using our words and that no means no.
Part of staying safe is using common sense. Remind your freshman of the following: Don’t let anyone in your dorm whom you don’t know personally. Lock your door when neither you nor your roommate is in the room. Never leave your backpack, laptop, etc. unattended in the library, dining hall or other public space. Always walk with a friend at night and avoid the dimly lit shortcuts. College kids need to think and be aware of their surroundings.
Colleges provide ways to stay safe: The blue light system calls campus police to your location. Students in residence halls must swipe their ID for admittance. The campus escort service will send someone to walk you home or to your car at night. There’s a campus number to text for help 24/7. And an emergency warning system sends alerts to student cell phones.
The Bottom Line
You’re a parent, so you’ll worry. Your freshman is a college student, so she’ll assert her independence, until she needs help when things get tough. The hardest part is knowing when to guide and not handhold. My advice: trust your instincts.
Anne Vaccaro Brady created the blog, “Parents’ Guide to the College Puzzle,” where she shares information and insight on the college admissions process and the freshman experience for parents and students. She holds a degree in journalism from Syracuse University and has been an editor for national magazines, including the teen magazine Sassy, and worked in public affairs for Purchase College, SUNY. She is a freelance writer and college admissions essay coach. The younger of her 2 children recently graduated from college, bringing to an end her life as a college parent.