Parents can be annoying.
From telling their children to eat more vegetables and quizzing them about what time they’ll be home or whether they’ve finished their college applications, to offering copious advice about pretty much everything, it probably seems like they can’t help themselves.
But they’ve got a pretty good reason — love. They spend a good chunk of their parenting years nurturing and protecting their children.
Simply put, letting go can be difficult.
The truth is, as much as things change and each of us is unique, we do share certain rites of passage, such as heading off to college.
If we pay attention, lessons gleaned from these universal experiences can provide a wealth of valuable advice — especially when it comes to easing fears about beginning this new chapter of life.
When my oldest son went away to college, it was uncharted territory for both of us. After much practice, my default response to the highs, lows, and everything in between became, “How can I help?”
It reminded us both that ultimately, the journey was his — I was available to assist in any way I could, but the degree to which I did was up to him.
Here are some additional time-tested tips to help you both adjust to freshman year of college.
Advice for Incoming College Freshmen
The first few months of school can be a rollercoaster.
- Remember that you’re not alone in your feelings, and no matter how at ease someone else seems on the outside, all freshmen are going through an adjustment. It’s normal.
- Speaking of other freshmen, be the friend you’d like to have. Treat people well, and they’ll be more likely to return the favor.
- Join in. Find a club, a group, a sport — something that interests you. It doesn’t need to be a fraternity or sorority if that’s not your thing. And it doesn’t need to be forever. Just put the wheels in motion—you never know who you might meet.
- While you consider these new adventures, pause to think about the what if’s. It is possible to be spontaneous while still being responsible.
- Let go of the concept of perfection, especially during your first year at school. Accept that the path to accomplishment is paved with mistakes, and that’s how we learn.
- Talk to your family about how and when you’d like to communicate. You’ll feel more in control if you establish boundaries that give you some privacy, while at the same time allow your family to stay an important part of your new life. It’s a big shift for everyone. Patience and tolerance are key.
- If you’re talking to your parents and just want to vent about something going on at school, tell them that at the start. They might surprise you (in a good way). By letting your parents know you want them to listen and not provide advice, you’ll help them make the shift to mentor and further hone your own problem-solving skills.
- Find the sweet spot—the school/social life balance. You’ll be making decisions about when to postpone homework to attend social events, and when to say no to social events to do homework — all without your parents around to remind you of deadlines and consequences (or give you the side-eye!). You are in charge of you. It’s a big responsibility, but you can handle it.
- Never underestimate the importance of sleep to your good health — and good grades. Make time for it, even if you need earplugs to arrange some.
- Since we’re on the topic of good health, be sure to say yes to help — from counselors, medical staff, tutors, mentors, and more. This is your time, so make the most of opportunities you’re given. Plug those phone numbers they give you at orientation into your phone, and don’t be afraid to use them.
- Consider applying for your first credit card and talk to your parents/guardian about it. Several companies offer cards to college students. Most have very low spending limits (that’s a good thing), and the process can help you learn about budgeting, interest rates, and (when you pay on time) can help you build a good credit score, which is important to have as you enter the adult world.
How to Be a Good College Parent
- Start making the shift from “active parenting” to “mentoring” while your children are still in high school. Let them take the lead on scheduling doctor and dental appointments, managing a budget, shopping for household supplies, and more. It might take some time before they fully get it, but if you give them the opportunity to learn these skills gradually, they’ll start to figure out how to become independent adults.
- Talk with your kids about the shift. Let them know you don’t expect perfection from them, and you’ll likely make mistakes as well. The key is to be honest with one another as you learn to navigate this new stage of life. They want you to see them as emerging adults. That includes negotiating and respecting their boundaries about how often to text and call when at school.
- And perhaps most importantly, don’t make them feel guilty for going away to school. They need to know you’re okay without them at home (even if you’re not!). Keep building your own life, apart from theirs. You’re still a family, of course, but by focusing on your own dreams, you’re role-modeling how to continue learning and growing throughout life. And really, as life lessons go, that’s a biggie and definitely something they don’t teach in school.
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