“Can we talk?” These are the three words every teenager dreads hearing from their parents. But, it’s inevitable. You’re leaving the nest and heading off to college. Besides, your folks have put in 18 years of hard work. They’ve housed you, fed you, and clothed you. They’ve taken you to every little league practice, volleyball game, and band concert. They even took you to see One Direction and stayed for the concert. (Okay, I’m referring to myself right now, but you get the idea!)
College will be a big change for you and your parents. When you get to school, you’ll hit the ground running – new schedules, dealing with money, taking care of your health, no curfews, etc. Believe it or not, your parents have experienced a few of these things and actually do have some amazing college advice.
So surprise them with your maturity and initiate a few discussions over the summer. You can handle it. After all, you’re a high school graduate! Here are a few starter points to help you get the conversation going.
Your parents are used to seeing you and talking to you every day. If you currently text them throughout the day now, they may expect that to continue. However, with your new schedule, it might not be a priority for you. Talk about how you plan to communicate. Will you respond to texts or calls every day or once a week? Set a day and time to FaceTime or Skype. Sometimes parents just need to see your smiling face. Have a chat about social media use as well. If your parents are on Facebook and Instagram, is it okay for them to comment on your activities? Be honest with them now about communication expectations.
Talk to your parents about what sort of support you will need from them - financially, emotionally, and physically. If you’ve always relied on Mom and Dad to take care of things, including paying for everything, doing your laundry and cleaning your bathroom, how will you navigate this new territory on your own?
“Families should have some discussions about expectations for their student’s spending, behavior, and goals for academic success,” said Jeff Rickey, Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid for St. Lawrence University.
Michael R. Coombes, Director of New Student Programs for North Carolina State University, said parents often struggle with balancing how to support their child without complete reliance. Students should be encouraged to call their parents if they have issues, but they should not automatically expect answers to their problems.
“Finances can be a huge stressor,” added Coombes. “It’s important for students to realize the ultimate cost of education. It’s not just tuition. There’s the cost of eating, going out, books, club fees, clothing, groceries, transportation, etc. Costs add up very quickly.”
Coombes advises that parents be up front from the beginning about what they can contribute and what they expect their student to contribute. In addition, if parents provide an allowance, discuss expectations about how that money should be used. If it’s all spent on social activities and then there’s no money left for books, what are the consequences?
3. You’re Not in High School Anymore!
For four years, you went to class in the same building, had a lot of the same teachers, and your parents got your grades. You played a sport or joined a club and practices and meetings were held right after school.
Now, you have an entire campus to navigate. Larger classrooms with hundreds of students, different teaching styles, and classes located on opposite sides of a massive campus can make for some stressful adjustments. In addition, there are many more activities competing for your attention. From intramural teams and Greek life, to clubs and service organizations, you will have to make some decisions about what’s important to you regarding extra-curricular activities.
How are you going to handle it? Your parents know you well and can probably offer some great insight in how to deal with these new changes. And remember, in college your parents don’t automatically get to see your grades. Discuss now if you will grant them access.
4. Time Management
If you are coming from an environment where everything is very structured and someone is always telling you where to go, what to do, and when to do it, then one of the biggest changes you will face is time management. You will have to manage your time and learn to balance your life socially, emotionally, and academically. Talk to your parents about the best ways to responsibly enjoy your newfound freedom.
“Students have the freedom to go to class or not,” said Coombes. “They have complete control of what they do. It takes a while to really understand what that means.”
Remember your parents have been scheduling your life since you were old enough to join your first playgroup. They can offer great advice about setting up a schedule that works for you.
5. Staying Healthy and Happy
Sure, it’s going to be great not having Mom nag you about eating your fruits and vegetables every day. However poor eating decisions combined with staying up late and not getting enough exercise, can wreak havoc with your health and energy levels. Talk to your parents about what you should do if you’re not feeling well and when to call a doctor. Do you know how and where to fill a prescription? Do you have a health insurance card in your wallet?
Now that you’re 18, school and health officials cannot share your information with your parents without your permission. Talk to them about what you should do if you are extremely sick or feeling depressed. They won’t be there to call the doctor. You will need to call and ask for help.
6. Newfound Freedom and Behavior
It may sound great to stay up all night and not worry about a curfew, but at some point you will have to set some limitations. Have an honest conversation with your parents about social life. Crazy as it may seem, your Mom and Dad were young once and probably have a few good stories to share. Ask for and listen to their advice about drinking, socializing, staying out late, checking in, campus safety, being out alone, etc. “It’s better to do it before rather than after something happens,” said Coombes.
Of course, some of these topics are not easy to discuss, but they are crucial conversations to have. Your parents need to know that you are aware of these issues and will know how to handle them if the situation arises.
7. Campus Safety & Emergencies
You’re at an age where you feel invincible, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take precautions. Discuss how you plan to contact each other in case of emergencies. Your parents have protected you from the instant you were born and it’s hard to let go. Having a serious conversation about how you plan to stay safe and deal with different emergency and safety issues will help alleviate their fears and make you a street-smart savvy student.
8. Home for the Holidays
It’s important to discuss now whether or not you’ll be coming home for holiday breaks. If you can’t come home for breaks, what are your options?
“If students live far away from the college they are attending, they should already have a plan about when and how they will go home for the first time,” said Rickey. “Will it be at mid-semester break, Thanksgiving, or winter break? Will parents be coming to campus for family weekend? Knowing when they will see family again soothes the students.”
9. Saying Goodbye
You know it’s going to happen. Your parents may get a little emotional when it’s time to say goodbye. We can’t help ourselves. We are excited for you and this next phase in your life. We don’t want to embarrass you (really!), but we may need a little help in moving on. Figure out now the best way to send your parents on their way after move-in day. Let them know you love them, but don’t want an emotional goodbye in front of your roommate.
Your relationship with your parents can remain constant in certain aspects, but as you embark on this new phase in your life, don’t be surprised if you notice a few changes. “This is a very unique time in a parent/student relationship,” said Coombes.
Take advantage of this time before school begins. Have a few heart to heart chats with your parents before you head to school. It will mean the world to them and believe it or not, it will mean the world to you too – one day!
Photo credits: Matt Siegel and Mississippi State University Public Affairs
Also check out our post about the 15 Things You Should Do Before the First Day of College!