My brother left for college a year before I did. I cried on and off during the ride home. This is not a good sign. It’s also not a good sign that I welled up with tears at my son’s last concert during the wind ensemble’s performance of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” My son leaves for the big city in late August. He is leaving cow country and Mom’s lasagna for a high-rise and a hot dog cart. I have a whole range of emotions — everything from excitement and pride to fear and melancholy.
The next school year will surely bring enormous change for everyone involved — for my daughter who will be the lone child, for my husband and I who will have fewer school events to go to, and for our dog, my son’s best friend, whom I envision sleeping by the door until my son comes home for Thanksgiving. I’ve been worried about this impending day for months now, but I’m determined to handle it well — with a detailed list and an upbeat attitude.
“As the summer gets into full swing, parents may notice differences in their son or daughter, themselves, and other family members as everyone prepares for the student’s first time at college,” explains Suzanne Howell, director of residential life and housing at Binghamton University.
It’s normal for teens to want to spend time with friends before they go away, so put some dates on the calendar to make sure you get to spend time with them, too.
“To avoid hurt feelings, parents can set aside ‘family time’ — a vacation or weekly family dinner.”
Parents should be involved in the physical preparation for college as well. Amy Przeworski, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, suggests that parents help their teens purchase necessities for college. She also recommends buying a special present that will remind a teen of home.
“This could be a picture frame with a family photo or a special print for their dorm wall,” she says.
Keep it positive
Your teen surely has conflicting emotions as well, so you should encourage an optimistic outlook.
“It’s not the end of the world if parents get a little teary when they drop their child off at college,” advises Lisa Greenberg, PhD, a licensed psychologist and parenting expert in Madison, NJ. “On the other hand, if a parent is concerned about falling apart, it might be helpful to warn the student in advance.”
Greenberg stresses that students shouldn’t feel responsible for cheering their parents up, so parents should keep the focus on their teen’s positive energy. Przeworski agrees.
“A teen leaving for college should be a joyful event,” explains Przeworski. She says that it’s typical for parents to feel sad, but they should try to emphasize the excitement surrounding going to college, instead of negative emotions.
Parents should also validate their teen’s feelings.
“Most teens have mixed feelings about going to school. If a teen is worried, telling them not to worry does not help,” reports Przeworski. Instead, parents should tell their teen it’s normal to have mixed emotions.
Parents will not have the same level of communication with the school or their teen.
“This is a point where parents need to take a step back from the center of their child’s life,” explains Greenberg.
“At the university level, communication goes directly to the student. Parents can set clear expectations with their teen about communication they expect to be notified of promptly (i.e. tuition, deadlines, grades, etc.) and communication their teen can choose not to share,” suggests Howell.
Holding a young adult to a higher level of responsibility will help him have a more successful college experience.
Tips and tales
“Give a quick hug and kiss and then walk away. If you want to listen to music on the way home, make sure they are happy tunes.”
— Beth Ackerman, Staatsburg, NY
“I thought leaving my first born at FIT in Manhattan would be a very sad day, but I brought a book to read on the way home. This kept me from dwelling on the fact that we just left her.”
— Terri Brown, Mayfield, NY
Share your ideas
Upcoming topic: Suggest holiday chores your teen enjoys that help ease your stress during the holiday rush.
Myrna Beth Haskell is a feature writer, columnist and author of the newly released book, “Lions and Tigers and Teens: Expert advice and support for the conscientious parent just like you” (Unlimited Publishing LLC). See www.unlimitedpublishing.com/haskell for details.