Dear New Shrink,
In just two weeks my second child will be leaving for college. I am excited for this new opportunity and for him but I find myself much more anxious than when my first child went off to college. While he doesn’t talk about it often he has said a few times that has mixed emotions about leaving home. He will be on the other side of the country. What can I do to make this an easy transition for him and for me?
Thanks for your help,
Leaving home and starting college is one of the most difficult transitions an adolescent faces, let alone if he is moving across the country to do so. While it is full of exciting new people, opportunities, and experiences, it is also a time of dramatic change for both your son and for your family. I imagine you and your son are both going through a lot of different emotions from anxiety and fear to joy and excitement as you prepare for this next step. Cherish the time you do have together and plan for things to celebrate this new transition in his life and the change your family will go through.
Remember back to when your son first started kindergarten. Although you knew he’d come home at the end of the day there is still a sense of separation that probably created some tension or anxiety. Leaving home for college is a further loosening of those parental ties. It is those same healthy parental ties that allow your child to become an autonomous and self-reliant young adult. Look at your child’s first year of college as a transitional period rather than an abrupt ending to living at home. While you will go from seeing your son everyday to seeing him during college breaks, he will still be the strong and resilient child you created.
For most leaving home is a smooth process. Only a very small percentage of adolescents have any major problems adjusting to college and gaining independence. However, it is essential that your child feel as though you understand and accept him for who he is. As a parent, you can do this by remaining available to him when he looks to you for support or comfort. Reinforcing a supportive and healthy relationship during this transition will help your child become more mature, responsible and self-confident.
Studies have found that children who felt closer to their parents actually had an easier adjustment to college. These students demonstrated greater independence and self-reliance. Students with a supportive and secure relationship with their parents are more likely to form healthy friendships, succeed in school, and have greater overall life satisfaction. They are also more likely to express their feelings in an open and honest manner. Likewise, when they are stressed out they look to their parents for support. Know that the process of adjusting to a new place takes time and that there will be days filled with excitement and days filled with apprehension. By providing your son with open space to talk with you about problems or issues you can help him adjust to his new environment.
Although the new schedule and lifestyle of college students may feel like they are distancing themselves from their parents, it is likely that he is just finding new ways to show you how important you are to him. Every phone call, e-mail and letter is just one sign that he is thinking of you. For some families, it is helpful to make a plan for staying in touch before they leave home, but be prepared to revise it once he gains a sense of his daily routine. I have known students who call home on a daily basis just to briefly check in and others that have a longer weekly phone “appointment” with their parents. As a parent it is important for you to acknowledge that you have been spending the last 17 or 18 years to prepare your son for this very time. You may find it helpful to talk with family and friends about your mixed feelings regarding his leaving for college.
Provide the time and space your son needs to prepare for this new stage of his life. There will be times when he needs you to listen and help him through problems and there will be times when he needs you step back and let him grow and learn life’s lessons. Allow your son time to adjust to the new requirements of his new environment and college life. While this can be a time of joy and sadness for you as a parent, your child is ready to accept the challenges you have prepared him for.
Katrina Davy, M.A., Ed.M, is a professional College and Career Counselor who has worked in university and private settings. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Cornell University. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions are kept anonymous; let us help you with your life matters!