After all those years of education, your teen is finally off to college. You don’t know whether to breathe a sigh of relief, or worry. You are most likely having mixed feelings. Before he heads off to the big blue yonder you realize you should impart some final words of wisdom.
Below is a list of the conversations to cover before he packs his bags and walks out the door.
1. The independence talk. Learning to strike the balance between study and play can be the most difficult task your teen has to tackle when she first arrives at school. College offers your teen a lot of freedom and independence. With so many awesome opportunities it can be overwhelming. This is especially true if this is your teen’s first real experience away from home. It is not uncommon for first semester freshman to perform below their academic expectations. Let your teen know once she strikes a balance the rhythm of college life will quickly become melodious.
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2. The drug and alcohol talk. It is important to talk about the illicit temptations that are often synonymous with college life. Remind your teen that her new found freedom can also bring with it the pressure to fit in. Most colleges have strict policies about alcohol and drug use. Many follow a ‘no tolerance’ policy which means serious sanctions for students caught engaging in illegal extracurricular activities such as underage drinking and drugging. Reinforce your confidence in your teen’s decision making ability. A little validation can go a long way.
3. The safety talk. Teens tend to believe that on some level they are invincible. Due to brain development they are prone to think that bad things only happen to other people. College life often brings with it crazy schedules-late night studying and hanging out with friends until wee hours of the morning. With your teen’s new found freedom and independence may come a false sense of security. This is especially true if your teen is attending a campus school. Remind your teen to take precautions: walk with a group of friends late at night; lock dorm doors; create a buddy system so someone always knows where she is and with whom. Suggest that your teen set up a code word system with a trusted friend. This way if they are ever in need of help, when she texts or calls with the code word, her friend knows to come get her.
4. The sex talk. By now you have undoubtedly had a conversation about this topic with your teen. Sex can be difficult to discuss for both you and your teen. College provides a social atmosphere like no other. If your teen has been particularly shy and not so socially savvy college may be the first time he engages in an intimate relationship. Reinforce the basics. Talking about safe sex is always important. Remind your teen that her body is her temple; no one has the right to pressure or force her into anything with which she is not comfortable. Discuss the definition of ‘date rape’ with your daughters and sons. Remind them that sex should always be consensual. This means that both individuals are in a state to honestly (e.g. sober) offer agreement.
5. Home is where the heart is. While your teen may be out of sight, let her know she is never out of mind. Now is the time to pour on the accolades. Let him know how proud you are. It is also helpful to set up a scheduled time for a daily or weekly call. The predictability of a pre-arranged call can bring comfort to both you and your teen. You will both know that this time has been reserved. Of course you will let your teen know he can call or text whenever. Reserving a set time is a good way to quell your anxiety about how your teen is doing and his anxiety about finding the time to call you as he learns to adjust to his new schedule.
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Jennifer Powell-Lunder and Barbara Greenberg are authors of the hit book, "Teenage as a Second Language: A Parent's Guide to Becoming Bilingual." They've set up an interactive website for parents and teens to listen, learn and discuss hot topics and daily dilemmas. You can find it at www.talkingteenage.com.