Overview: The transition from homeschool family life to college independence can be scary. Help prepare your teen with these ideas.
Two of my high-schoolers left on Friday for a week with our church’s youth group, so the house has been much quieter for a few days. It has abruptly gotten me to realize what it will be like this fall, when yet another daughter goes off to college and I am left with two kids at home.
(And since my husband has to travel for work so much, that means the house will often seem VERY empty… like it is now…) Which has made me think about how soon we will be sending that new freshman off to campus — yikes! — and what I need to make sure to do to help her in preparing for college.
By this time, the academics are either in place or they’re not, so that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about what discussions do we need to have, what things do we need to do together — before she leaves — so that she is as ready as possible for the new independence of the college life.
Going from being at home most of the time (especially as a homeschooled student) to the complete autonomy of living on campus can be quite a shock. Each child will respond differently. There are different types of college students, just as there are differing personalities of people.
For some kids it is a time to rebel against all that we’ve tried to teach them, to try every new thing that comes their way, including alcohol and sex. I don’t want that for my daughter. I want her to try her wings, yes; but not in ways that will be damaging to her. So what do I need to do to help ground her to be ready to handle the complete freedom she will have?
6 Ways to Help Your Teen be Ready for College Independence
1) Continue fostering our relationship by spending time together. Yes, the groundwork on our relationship should have been laid long before now. Like her academic preparation, this is either there, or it’s not there, by this time. My feeling, though, is that it’s never too late to build bridges — and there are never too many bridges. So if our relationship were difficult, I’d be trying with all my might to repair it somewhat before sending her off. And since it is strong (thankfully), spending more time together will only cement it further.
I think I’ll take her out to lunch, just her and me. When you have four siblings, alone time with a parent can be hard to get! It could be a time of deep discussion, but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes the best thing is just to be casual and relaxed and have fun without an agenda.
Another great way to spend time will be to stay up late with her. For some reason, late at night is when confidences get shared. If I’m reading my book on the sofa while she’s on social media next to me, at some point she may open up about what she’s seeing or about something that has been on her heart. Quality time can’t be forced, y’all. The quality won’t happen unless there is some quantity first. Even sitting side-by-side and not talking at all can foster trust, believe it or not. It’s worth the loss of sleep. :-)
2) Shop for college supplies. Who doesn’t love shopping?? Even guys like it when it is for them (as long as it doesn’t take too long, lol)! I like to let the student do most of the planning and picking out of these things, with me being fairly hands-off. It’s an exercise in developing a budget and a plan for a project, and then executing it — one that they are highly motivated to accomplish, lol. And the time spent shopping together is more great bonding time.
After the purchases are made, I can help her organize and pack. It’s a good time to tell her that she won’t need to take ALL OF HER EARTHLY BELONGINGS to school, or even all of her clothing. Dorm rooms are small. And fashion is VERY casual. (We learned this the hard way with #1…)
3) Watch “questionable” movies together. Yep, it’s time. As a family we have been very careful with what our children watch. Even PG-13 movies can have material in them that we don’t want our children to become familiar with, so before about age 17 we don’t allow those until we have previewed them first. We get laughed at for that, but so be it.
But now, before she leaves for college, is the time to allow her to watch some that might include more adult themes. She’s going to be able to watch whatever she wants when she goes off to school, so I want her first exposure to this stuff to be while she’s still home with us.
This accomplishes two things: 1) it makes those movies less enticing, because they are not forbidden fruit, and 2) we can discuss what she’s seeing, so that she doesn’t form any wrong conclusions and can remain grounded in a proper perspective of reality. Let’s face it, movies can be deceiving in their presentations of history, ideas, morality, etc. If we talk some of them over with her before she goes away, then she will have a better framework for mature discernment when she is on her own.
One of my older girls and I watched World War Z together at about this time of the year before she left for her freshman year. There was a moment about 10 minutes in where I was starting to freak out a bit about the zombies, and I asked her if we really wanted to do this… her response was, “We’re committed now, Mom!” Which made me laugh.
Of course if a movie is really awful (sinful with no overarching value), we want them to make the decision to stop without finishing it – and that’s something that may be discussed as we watch these types of movies with them. But in this case it was just a fun moment that we will both remember. The thought of that movie still gives me the heebie-jeebies, lol; but for her it is a great memory with mom. And I just can’t regret that.
4) We need to have “the talk” — more than one of them, actually. Yes, of course she already knows about the birds and the bees, duh. But we need to revisit the entire subject in relation to what she will be seeing around her on campus. Our family belief has always been that sex is to be saved for marriage, and an outgrowth of that belief is our family policy that there is no need to date until you are in a position to be ready for marriage. Hence none of my girls have ever dated before college.
It will thus be an eye-opener for her to see relationships on campus between kids her own age… and she may be shocked at the level of physical intimacy that is openly displayed, not to mention what gets talked about in conversation, and what she may realize actually happens behind closed doors.
We need to prepare her for this – it occurs even at Christian schools like the one she will be going to, y’all – and we don’t need to be shy about details. She needs to go off to school with at least a mental understanding of the types of things she will see going on around her, and how to process them in her mind and heart.
Then there is the talk about what to look for in a mate. His cuteness is not the biggest factor, hello. :-) As they meet more members of the opposite sex, and as they see around them people their own age having relationships, it’s natural to begin to think about that for themselves.
But we don’t want them to just jump into dating anybody and everybody. Talking to them about qualities to look for in a person who would make a good life partner gives them a basis for discernment as they explore the whole realm of “relationships.”
She also needs to be forearmed with tools to help her deal with uncomfortable situations. (This may not apply so much to sons…) One such “tool” we have given all our daughters is the ability to pull the “dad” card whenever they feel threatened in any way. “My dad doesn’t want me to date yet” can be utilized at any time if my daughter is not interested in the gentleman doing the asking, yet doesn’t feel comfortable just saying no without a reason.
Or “my dad wants you to call him first” can send undesireables running for the hills. If a boy steps up to that plate and actually makes the call, then dad can grill the poor kid and give a thumbs up or thumbs down – and the daughter feels protected and secure. One of our older daughters never actually used the “dad” card – she was able to stand on her own two feet and do the hard job of saying no all by herself – but it gave her security knowing she had a backup if need be.
5) Help her purchase her first batch of textbooks. When I was in college, there were only one or two places to get the textbooks I needed for class – one of which was the college bookstore. Can you say, “expensive”?? Nowadays the internet is rife with places to purchase or rent textbooks. They don’t all have to be bought from the same place. Helping your child navigate through the hunt and do the actual purchasing means that next semester, when they are away at school, they can do it on their own.
6) Get her set up with a bank account. If your child has been working at a job during high school, they may already have a bank account in place. My girls have found it handy to have one where they are going to college, though, if only because then ATM fees are less, lol.
Another thing we’ve learned the hard way is it’s helpful to get the student a credit card with her name on it. Not her own credit card ACCOUNT, just a piece of plastic that is tied to the parents’ account — yet it has the student’s name on it, so they can make transactions with it. This is for emergency situations only, like if their car breaks down and needs to be fixed, or if they find out on the Friday before a holiday that the caf is going to be closed over the weekend and they have no cash for food… Believe me when I tell you that wiring money is rather expensive…um.
One of my daughters goes to school with kids who are given credit cards that they can spend freely on – I do NOT advocate that. College is a time for kids to learn to stand on their own two feet, while still being somewhat protected. If we pay ALL of their expenses for them, they will not learn to do that. What they will learn is how to practice undisciplined spending that carries no consequences. That is NOT preparing them for real life.
Parents do need to realize, however, that they will in reality be shelling out money for more than just tuition, room, & board when their kid goes to college. For some reason, there is a lot of cash for incidentals that changes hands. But DON’T let the money be something the kid can take without asking – make the child talk to you beforehand and give reasons for each expenditure they want to make on that card. Many times you may find there’s another way they can handle the situation, thereby taking another step along the road to independence.
The time is approaching too quickly for us to drive away from #3, leaving her on campus to get to know her roommate and enjoy freshman orientation activities. I don’t think we’ll EVER feel like we’ve done enough to help them in preparing for college independence, but I’d still like to keep trying until I’ve given her that last hug and watched her get smaller in the rear view mirror.
Pardon me now while I go get a kleenex… sniffle!!