Top 10 Dos and Don'ts for Parents Sending Their Kids to CollegeYou might get so distracted helping your son or daughter prep for college life that you forget there are similar to-do lists for yourself! Here, some tips on the best way to make the transition to college a smooth one for all parties.
It's not always easy to know how to handle things when your kid is heading off to college. So many things to think about, so many details to manage, and so many feelings. Because, let's face it, your son or daughter isn't just going to college, they're leaving home. You know it, and they know it. Although there is no absolute guaranteed-to-succeed way to ease your baby into the world, there are a few time-tested things you can do, and just as importantly not do, to help your kid have a good college experience. This handy guide addresses some of the most important decisions, strategies and potential faux pas for parents of college-bound students.
1. DON'T allow your freshman to live off campus
Unless your child is attending a local school and living at home, a college dorm is the best student housing choice for at least the first year. Going away to school leaving home, parents, and the familiarity of high school to enter the hallowed halls of higher learning is hard enough without the isolation that comes from off-campus living. Dorms immerse students in campus life, help them meet other kids who are in the same situation, and give freshmen a much-needed sense of community. And unlike an apartment, dorms offer at least some supervision.
2. DO help your child set up a checking account and credit card
A basic checking account and a credit card with a low, pre-set spending limit will make it easier for your freshman to handle routine expenses, such as buying books, as well as the unexpected. It will also help her learn to handle money, reinforce her sense of independence, and establish a good credit rating during her college years that will serve her well after she graduates and gets her first post-college job.
3. DON'T take it personally when your kid stops calling home
When your freshman first arrives at college, he will be excited and homesick. He probably will call home a lot, causing you to take pity on those poor parents who complain about never hearing from their college-age children. Within a few weeks, however, chances are your phone will stop ringing. It's not you, and it's not really him, it's the situation. Your freshman is suddenly swept up in a new world with a lot of new demands and distractions. Don't take it personally, and don't nag. Just realize that keeping in touch with your college kid is going to be on you for awhile.
4. DO add text messaging to your mobile phone
Texting is very popular on college campuses, so your chances of keeping in touch are much better if you learn how to text before your kid leaves for school. Unless you both agree that it's okay to call at certain times, a phone call could interrupt a class, a study session, or a much-needed nap after a rough day in the biology lab. Besides, if your kid is busy, she may have the ringer turned off. Texting can be done almost anywhere (except while driving) so text your child and encourage her to text back. E-mail is a fine second choice.
5. DON'T assume that no news is good news
Despite what you may have heard about how bad it is to be a "helicopter" parent (one who hovers over the kids, asking questions and, well, meddling), it ain't necessarily so. Sure, over-involvement can be a problem, but research shows that kids feel supported by parents who ask questions, act on their behalf, and stay engaged. If you have questions or concerns, ask.
6. DO invest in a mini refrigerator and microwave for the dorm room
You'd like to think that once your freshman is out from under your watchful eye, he will still take time to eat nutritious and wholesome meals, but that's not always going to happen. By installing a small refrigerator and microwave in his dorm room, and stocking the fridge with heat-and-eat meals, plus juice and water, you can help to ensure that your kid will eat something nutritious between classes, and during those marathon study sessions when the cafeteria is closed.
7. DON'T be afraid to let your kid make mistakes
It's important to support your child and offer help when help is needed, but like it or not your freshman is hurtling toward adulthood. You may be tempted to smooth the way, but that's not always possible. Sometimes you just have to trust your child to make good decisions, and watch anxiously but quietly as they make mistakes. It's all part of learning to navigate the world.
8. DO make friends with Facebook
Your kids are probably on Facebook or other social networking sites, and their friends are, too. Facebook pages are like personal resumes, journals and scrapbooks all rolled into one people post photos of parties and events, share their thoughts and feelings, and talk about their activities, favorite music and videos. A subtle but effective way to keep an eye on your kids (and who they're hanging out with) is to add yourself as a "friend" to their Facebook pages.
9. DON'T redecorate your freshman's room right away
As tempting as it may be to delegate your college student's abandoned bedroom to another child, or finally get that den or studio you've always wanted, try to resist the temptation to start transforming the room the minute your freshman leaves for school. Going away to college can be unsettling enough for your freshman without being forced to sleep on the couch the first time she comes home for a visit. At some point you can strike a deal to make over the room for another purpose, but hold off for awhile. Coming "home" can be very comforting.
10. DO explore new interests (or expand the ones you've got)
When your freshman leaves the nest and goes off to college, make good use of the time you've been spending on daily parenting for the past 18 years. Take classes, get in shape or get involved in your community. One of my friends became a Big Brother to a fatherless boy after his own son left for college; another took cooking lessons in France. Whatever you choose to do, share your child's spirit of adventure and do something you'll enjoy. You've earned it.
Larry West is a freelance writer based in the Pacific Northwest, and a father who helped guide two daughters through college.
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