It is that time of year again!
Kids are packing up and heading off to college. Some will be driven in cars by their parents, some will be driving themselves, and others will be boarding planes and trains to get to their new residence. However they travel – there are a few things these young adults need to know before they embark on their new adventure.
My oldest two are now college graduates, the middle two are in college (starting their senior and junior year respectively), and the youngest two are high school and middle school. The daughter heading into her senior year of college is actually packing her bags for a semester abroad. She will be studying in Copenhagen, Denmark. So we are in the whirlwind of packing and last minute details.
But what do kids need to know before they leave for college?
I’ve been through this a number of times, and each time it is different. With children going to school in-state and across the country, we have found all ways to manage getting supplies and decking out dorm rooms. While all of that is necessary, once you unpack and sort belongings, help them set up their rooms, and say good-bye – you just pray that you have taught them everything they need to be self-sufficient.
We may be only a phone-call away, but kids will not always be calling home when they get themselves into a pickle. So I asked my children, what words of advice or talking points would you give parents about to send their child off to college. And this is what they said:
1. Broaden Your Horizons. Maybe they know a friend or two already, but be sure to check out clubs and activities. My son joined a fraternity – after he told me that, “No way – that’s not for me!” Well, it became a huge part of his life. My daughter became a FYSOP leader after enjoying her experience in the First-Yeat Student Outreach Project. Another daughter is a student ambassador giving weekly college tours to prospective students. And the fourth college student in our family is in a service fraternity taking part in many different service activities. All four kids whole-heartedly agree, broaden your horizons! You will meet new people and find many new experiences when you are willing to put yourself out there.
2. Learn Public Transportation. The need for a car depends greatly on where your child has headed off to school. Two of ours are in major cities and exclusively get around via public transportation. Even with suitcases in hand to and from the airports when they travel home for school breaks. Boston and Chicago have excellent means of public transportation. Boulder has a great bus systems that is free for students. Only our child who stayed in California needed the use of a car. But wherever your child is – have your child become familiar with public transportation. And if they are taking a car to school, be sure they know the basics of car care. An emergency car kit tucked away in the trunk is smart.
3. Eat Healthy. Yes, they are now in charge. The dinning halls do have healthy options. Eating nutritious food will help them stay healthy and provide the necessary energy needed to tackle all that they have on their plate (no pun intended). Talk with your child about how to balance protein, grains, fruits, and veggies to get the nutrients and calories that he needs. You have probably been doing this all his life, but now that he is in charge – it takes on a new meaning.
4. Get to Know the Health Center. Speaking of staying healthy – whether they encounter a cold, sore throat , or something more serious like depression – the school health center is there to help. They need to know the location, hours, and how to contact. That first time they come down with a fever and mom is miles away – they need to know where to turn. Often times there is a nurse on staff or they can point your child in the right direction to get the help that she needs. Make sure your child has their health insurance information handy. For my daughter headed to Denmark – she has a list of qualifying practitioners. Also it is really important for your child to know that it is OK to seek out help if she is feeling overwhelmed or sad. The schools have services to help. Kids need to speak to more than just their friends – reach out to an RA or the Health Center.
5. Roommates Can Become Your Best Friend – Or Not. For the first time your child most likely will be living with a complete stranger. For the most part – we have had absolute success with roommates. Three of our children have become lasting friends with their freshman roommate and chose to live with them even after freshman year – and even after college. My oldest daughter was even a bridesmaid for her freshman roommate when she got married last year. However, it does not always work – and that is OK. It is OK to request a change in roommate if there really are issues that cannot be worked out. If it is disruptive and emotionally draining to live with someone – the school can make changes. Do not feel as though you have to just make the best of it, if it really is not working. There will be a lot of growing pains and living with a roommate will be bumpy at times. But they will know if it becomes too much, and you as a parent will also know if a living arrangement is causing too much grief. If so request a change. Likewise talk with your child about what makes a good roommate.
6. Know How to Sort Clothing and Do Laundry. I taught all of my kids how to do their own laundry early on. Lessons started in our home about 5th grade. This was mostly out of necessity 🙂 but if your child does not know how to sort and wash their own clothing – I quick lesson needs to take place.
7. Change The Bed Sheets! Like laundry your child needs to know how-to and WHY bed sheets need to be changed on a regular basis. I shudder when I think of how few times I know my son changed his sheets while he was away at college. Ewwww…….
8. Go to Class. This of course should go without saying. After all it is why they are there in the first place. Unfortunately, sometimes being fully in charge of their lives and being young they can not always make the best decisions. Early morning classes can be tough, but underclassmen are usually the last to register and often have early morning classes. Talk with your child about balance – the need for study time and class time. Staying up late studying (or hanging with friends) should not get in the way of attending class. I know I pulled more all-nighters than I should have. I am a procrastinator by nature – help your child understand the need for planning.
9. Know the Registration Process. Speaking of classes, your child needs to fully know and understand the registration process. First semester is going to be over before he knows it. Kids need to know registration dates, class requirements, and understand the whole process. This is different for every school. They will have a better chance to get the classes that they need, if they understand the process before the process starts. Remember – they are an adult now. You cannot do all of this for them. They should have an advisor to help them with this. Have your child make an appointment with the advisor sooner than later, their appointments book up FAST! Your child can give you access to his on-line account, but he is in the driver seat. Even if you are fully funding the education.
10. Talk to the Professors. Some kids are really used to talking with teachers and seeking out help. Some are way too timid. All professors are required to keep office hours; encourage your child to make appointments and go speak with them. This is not just about seeking out help when one is confused. Professors have a lot of students – knowing your child by name and knowing your child even a little bit, will make a difference. Opportunities will open up to students when the professors knows them and know what they are studying. Really! My children have been offered great opportunities, simply because a professor knew it would be a great fit for them. And as my one daughter said, “They just sit in their office with nothing to do, so go and visit.”
11. Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin. My kids all whole-heartily agree, you get out what you put in, but it is equally important to know when to reel in the involvement and commitments. Remember, school comes first. I always remind my children they go to college to get educated and to be prepared to work and support themselves when they graduate. Clubs, activities, Greek Life, campus jobs, volunteering, service hours, internships – it is all important, and kids will learn something from every experience and from everyone that they work with. But balance is key. Doing a good job is key. When students spread themselves too thin, they tend to get sick and struggle with staying on top of their workload.
12. Don’t Put Your Drink Down. Yes, my children were emphatic about this. We have all heard of Rohypnol, the “date rape drug”. Because it is both odorless and tasteless, it is easy to slip into a drink without notice. If your chid is standing in a crowd where there is drinking, she should hold the glass with her hand over the top. This way she will notice if someone tries to slip something into the drink. Talk with your child about the signs of Rohypnol drugging and how to get help quickly! This talk may be geared more towards daughters than sons. But parents need to talk with all children about date rape. Yes, it is real! I love the video using tea as an analogy to understand consent. Now is the time to have another conversation with your child about sex, STDs, drugs, and alcohol.
Unfortunately dating abuse is real as well. I had an awesome chat with Jordyn Wieber, the gold wining Olympic gymnast, and Brian Pinero, Director of Digital Services for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, about boundaries, balance, and where to turn if you need help. You can read more and see the interview here: Dating Abuse – Where to Turn?
13. Emergency Contact Information. Your child needs to have all of his emergency contact information in his phone and wallet. If something happens and he is not conscious, emergency workers need to know how to get a hold of you. I have swapped information with roommates and roommate parents as well. Reach out to your child’s roommate and his parents. At a minimum you should know how to contact each other in case the need arises. And conversely, remind your child that if there is an emergency, call 911 first – they can call you second.
14. Have FUN! I know that I have probably totally freaked you out with so much to think about and to talk to your child about. Your child is about to embark on one of the most important and largest steps in his/her life. Know that your child will be surrounded by support from roommates, floor mates, the RA, advisors, health center, mentors, and professors. The more your child involves his/herself into the fabric of the school community the larger their safety net will be.
You have taught your child well. This is the time to let kids go, let them test their wings, and let them fly.
I tell my children it always comes down to the basics: be responsible, be respectful, be kind, work hard, do your best, and enjoy. The rest will fall into place.
Be proud, Mama, you deserve this moment!
And savor the moments. Just like those newborn and infant years –
It flies by in the wink of an eye.
Before you know it they will be graduating and you will be reminiscing the college days and marveling at the wonderful adult your child has become.
Then you may be interested in reading, When Your Children Becomes Adults.
I am wishing all of the kids heading off to college a wonderful year!