How To Support Your College-Bound Teen
Sending your kid off to college is a big deal. Whether you’ve been looking forward to or dreading this day for 18 years, the transition can be difficult for both the parent and child. So how can you show your support without overwhelming your college-bound teen? Thankfully there are simple ways to make this transition just a little easier for everyone.
Whether your child got into their top school right away, got waitlisted or even rejected, there’s a variety of emotions that occur during their last year of high school. This is especially true for waitlists and rejection letters. It’s tempting to jump to your kid’s defense and desperately try to figure out why they were rejected. Of course parents are just trying to help. But that behavior won’t necessarily alleviate the negative feelings your child is experiencing. Instead, try to be supportive and encouraging. Practicing empathy is a great start. It’s not easy to sit with these feelings of disappointment but they can be extremely powerful. As difficult as it is to watch as a parent, it’s situations like these that will only help your child in the long run. When compassion and empathy are displayed, it will make life’s struggles and big changes a little more manageable.
So your teen is going to college...now what?
First, meet them where they’re at
We’ve all had our own setbacks but our children do not yet have the life experiences we do. These big changes are new to them and can be scary. You know your child is capable of achieving their dreams, but they might not be ready to hear that just yet. So check in with them. Ask them how they’re feeling and what they think about their options. They might not want to talk about it but it’s good to give them the option and a safe space to do so. If they don’t want to talk about it, just tell them that you are there for them if and when they are ready to talk.
If they do decide to share their feelings (whether it be excited, scared, nervous, etc), it’s important to validate those feelings. Even if you disagree with them, show your child that their feelings are valid. Everyone reacts differently to big life changes and there’s no right or wrong answer. Often times, kids don’t want to open up to their parents because they fear they’ll be judged. When you offer them a judgment-free zone, you’ll be able to get more out of them. If you can validate their feelings now, they’re less likely to question the legitimacy of their feelings in the future.
It’s in our nature to try and cheer someone up when they’re feeling down, even more so if it’s your own child. However, it’s best not to force them to cheer up or tell them to move on. If they’re not ready to overcome this obstacle right now, then you telling them to move on also tells them their feelings aren’t valid. Meet them where they’re at and let their reactions guide you the rest of the way.
Be their number one fan
Regardless of grades or SAT scores, there’s no better time than now to tell your teen how proud you are of them. Sure, you might have wanted to see more A’s or higher test scores. But just being able to graduate and make a decision to go to college is a big one...and something the whole family can be proud of.
Showing them you're proud will give them a sense of pride as well. When kids are in a situation where all of their friends are going to college too, it doesn’t always seem like going to college is much of an accomplishment. So remind them that it is...and how proud you are of them. This is another opportunity for you to show support for your child. In turn, they’ll be able to start to show support for themselves.
Whether you show your pride with a party, a special meal or with a heartfelt conversation, any act will make a difference. You may not realize it now and your teen might not either. But it’s these little displays of love that will make a big difference in the long run.
Let them speak
Because they’re “just kids” we often write off what they say and don’t always give them the floor to speak. If one of your adult friends shares their opinion with you or asks for your insight, you’d likely approach that conversation with a sense of equality. Give your child that same respect when they’re ready to talk to you about college (or anything, really).
It’s a parent’s instinct to want to protect your child. We often do so in the form of helping them make decisions, or even making decisions for them. At this point, they are old enough to make their own decisions (even if you don’t agree with them). It’s a fine line between helping them consider their options while also respecting their decisions and voicing your own concerns.
Know that these conversations will be different for every family as each family has their own dynamic. You want to maintain the respect of a parent but still find a way to get on the same level as your teen. At this point, you’ve done everything you could to help your child become the young adult that they are today. That’s something to keep in the back of your mind when having these conversations. It’s super impactful for young people to have the opportunity to be heard as adults. They want to be seen as equals with valuable insights, so it’s your job to allow that to happen.
Let them know that they have a safety net
Choosing a college is difficult enough, and that’s only the beginning of the decision-making process. What dorm they want to live in, what major they want to explore, what classes they want to take -- there’s a lot of exciting yet intimidating options. Find a way to let them know you’re here to help guide them through this process while encouraging them to start considering what they want.
Certainly, there are decisions to be made together, like finances for example. This is an important subject to discuss and be very clear with boundaries. There will be several times throughout your child’s college experience where they’ll have to make tough decisions. Whether it be about relationships, their education, goals, etc. there’s a ton of growing to do over the course of these four years. All you can do is let them know that you’re there for them no matter what.
Regardless of if you’re teen is going to college in a few months or a few years, let these tips be a guide to help make this transition as seamless as possible. Going to college might be your child’s first adult decision and we should be treating it as an adult decision. During this transitional period, this is a great opportunity to experiment with new ways of communicating.
If you’re seeking professional help guiding your college-bound teen, schedule an appointment with us today. We offer an array of services, including a special program for kids making their transition to college.
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