April 19, 2022 By Sherri Gordon

Five Important Conversations to Have with Your Teen Before College

Part of being a parent involves preparing your kids for the future and giving them the skills needed to become responsible adults. This is especially important before your kids go off to college. But if you’re like most parents, you may be wondering if they are truly ready for all college life entails. Here are the top five topics you should discuss with your soon-to-be college student before they leave the nest.

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Heading off to college is a huge step for your child. They’ll have an enormous amount of freedom and more responsibility. For this reason, it’s essential to share your expectations regarding college life and how they conduct themselves.

While these will be highly individual, common expectations of parents include attending all classes, maintaining good grades, and building relationships with professors. Discuss with your child the importance of asking for help when they need it, eating nutritiously, exercising, practicing good sleep hygiene and even doing laundry! If you have an idea of how often you’d like to speak or FaceTime, share that. These conversations are important to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Budgeting and Money

There is no doubt college is an expensive endeavor. Aside from the costs associated with tuition and room and board, there is the additional expense of food, transportation, books, supplies, and entertainment. And if your child has little to no experience budgeting and saving, this could mean they’re in for a crash course on how to stretch a dollar.

Ideally, you want to help them develop and stick to a budget before school starts. This way, they already have a handle on how much they can spend each week on extras, like coffee at the student union or tacos on Tuesdays.

Establishing and working within a budget from the beginning can keep your student from getting into financial trouble. Too often, students spend their money quickly and struggle to get by the rest of the year. Keep your student from avoiding these financial woes by helping them put a plan in place before they leave for school.

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Responsible Choices

When your child goes off to college, they’ll have the freedom to do anything they want, so it’s vital to have those tough conversations about responsible choices. This means discussing everything from not walking alone at night and using public transportation safely to avoiding binge drinking and practicing safe sex.

You’ve probably already talked with your child about alcohol, drugs, and peer pressure, but these issues can become more prevalent during college when students do not have access to oversight and guidance. Make sure your child understands the dangers of binge drinking, how to stay safe at parties by not leaving their drink unattended or accepting drinks from others, and the importance of safe sex practices and consent.

Also, talk to your child about finding a balance between their academic life and social life. While both aspects are equally important for their overall well-being, they can quickly become off-balance when social life is prioritized over their studies. Help them brainstorm ways to keep both in check, like using time management tools or keeping a detailed calendar.

Mental Health

Being away from home for the first time can create a number of mental health concerns. First-year college students may experience loneliness, self-esteem issues, anxiety, and depression especially if they’re having trouble fitting in or making friends.

Make sure your child knows not to ignore these feelings and how to access their college’s mental health resources. You can also make mental health check-ins part of your weekly communication. That way, you’re chatting regularly about how they’re feeling and adjusting to the new transition.

Signs of anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts are often missed because those who are struggling experience shame and are afraid to talk about their feelings. Help destigmatize mental health by normalizing these conversations with your child.

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Healthcare Release Forms

Whether you rely on the college’s healthcare plan or have one of your own, make sure your prospective college student knows how to manage and use their healthcare benefits. You may also want to ask them if they would consider signing a HIPAA release form and a medical power of attorney. These documents which can be printed for free from various online sites allow you to access your child’s healthcare records and participate in their medical care in the case of an emergency.

Nothing is more frightening for a parent than learning that their child is in the emergency room, especially when the doctors cannot tell you anything about their condition or treatment. Handling this type of situation alone can be a lot for an 18-year-old. For this reason, educate your child about what these forms allow so they’re able to make an informed decision. If your child is reluctant to sign the forms, it’s important to respect their decision.

Other Tips

Try to space these conversations out over a few weeks. Look for times to talk when you’re both relaxed like at dinner, while taking a walk, or even while riding in the car.

It’s also a good idea to avoid lecturing your child. Instead, assume they may already be thinking about these things. Open with a question rather than sharing your thoughts first. Ask things like, “What do you think is a reasonable weekly budget at school?” or “How do you feel about riding the bus at night?”

Finally, try not to take it personally if your soon-to-be college student rolls their eyes or looks put off by the conversation. This response is pretty normal. But rest assured, you’re not wasting your time or breath on these discussions.

In fact, a recent Teens, Health and Technology survey indicated that parents are the number-one source of information for college students, with 55 percent of teens getting health information from their parents before turning to the internet. So, the chances are high that they want to hear what you have to sayeven when they don’t act like it.