Ready or not, college is arriving

How parents can help their students embark on a college career.

  • Friday, August 30, 2019 8:30am
  • Opinion

By Don Shifrin, MD

Special to the Reporter

Arriving soon, after the angst of acceptance letters, rejections, and senioritis, comes that long-awaited moment when your teen will separate and sail away to navigate the choppy seas of college life. For parents, that moment ranks right up there with their birth date. College transition invokes a perfect storm of conflicting emotions: both pride and panic. Are we ready? Are they ready?

Although there are many guides to a successful “launch,” (Laura Kastner’s “The Launching Years” is a terrific resource) your teen’s anticipation of living independently and making daily decisions may not live up to their expectations. Incoming students need time to adjust in dealing with the ups and downs of college life. Parents do as well. Letting go is hard for both of you. You have given them roots and now they need to test their wings.

Don’t let nostalgia get the best of you. Saying goodbye should be done without hysteria, guilt and a set of 27 instructions. Sure, you will miss the messy rooms, chaos of teens rummaging through the kitchen or late arrivals. Maybe even the snuggling moments. Be assured they will be homesick, friend sick and dog/cat sick. Be a stress reducer, not a stress inducer.

Don’t talk about your college experience, good or bad. They will, in all probability, be either amused, horrified or both.

Don’t get into the what ifs of roommates, classes, professors, pizza and parties. Worry and anxiety are contagious diseases. Let’s not start college focusing on the hole in the donut.

What can you do as your teen departs to help them survive and thrive in their brave new world?

• Educate yourself — Access the college’s parent website to locate the campus facilities and services. Try to attend orientation. Familiarize yourself and your freshman with college ID cards, dorm rules, meal cards, and academic, tutoring and health services.

Investigate FERPA (the Family Educational Rights Privacy Act of 1974). It protects student’s privacy, and specifically prevents parents’ access to students’ educational records. Although you don’t want to be seen as intrusive checking on your teen’s academic progress, you should discuss the reality of your interest in doing so.

• Motivate your teen — Calmly have “the talk” about banking, credit cards, debit cards, and keeping medications and yourself safe. The key here is to be patient and positive, and brief. Building a college skill set is not just accumulating academic knowledge, but also making healthy social, emotional and physical choices. And note these choices have consequences.

• Activate your parent homing beacon — College is not a good bye to parenting, it is an evolutionary change. Stay in touch but control your need to connect with their need for adjustment, independence and privacy. Try to limit the urge to daily text, call or email. Allow them to friend you on their social media sites, but do not comment or embarrass them online.

Caveat here is that it’s their choice to share their experiences and they may decide “you don’t need to know what you don’t need to know.” Asking about classes, class attendance, time management, dietary choices, social engagements may not garner an extensive response. Be interested, not intrusive.

• Be available as a source of positive encouragement — “I am not there with you, but I will always be there to support you.” Transmit your support, but resist the urge to resolve issues. Express your confidence in their ability to be resourceful, resilient and recover from setbacks. After all, they were capable enough to be accepted to a prestigious university with plenty of options available for help. Keep your support at a distance, but try not to helicopter in unless a true 911 situation appears.

Parting reminder: Pen a proud and encouraging note for them to open after they arrive and unpack. And tell them to not forget their flu shots.

Dr. Shifrin, a Mercer Island resident and clinical professor of pediatrics at the University Of Washington School Of Medicine in Seattle, recently retired from 39 years as a clinician at Pediatric Associates, now Allegro Pediatrics, in Bellevue. Since 1997 he has been the voice of the American Academy of Pediatrics “Minute for Kids” daily radio spots on Chicago’s CBS flagship station, WBBM, and appears Wednesdays on KING5 Morning News highlighting pediatric and parenting issues.


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