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Off to College: 5 Ways to Prep Your Teen And You

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Money, Jobs, & College

If your teen is heading away to college in the fall his or her impending departure might start to dominate your thoughts. This is a big step for both of you. Here are some ideas to help this be a step in the right direction.

Buy only what is necessary. You naturally want your child to feel loved and cared-for. But that doesn’t mean that you need to outfit his dorm room with every possible color-coordinated gizmo that marketers tell you he’ll need. Avoid going overboard here and let him tell you what he’s discovered he really needs after he’s settled in. You will spend enough on books and fees anyway to more than prove your affection.

Don’t worry too much about her choice of major. Most college students change their majors at least once during their undergraduate programs, so trying to steer her into one major or another now is premature (if you went to college, check back: did you end in the major you started with?). And there is reason to believe that choice of major is no guarantee of employment after college – or of difficulty in finding employment after college. This big decision is one that should be hers and hers alone.

Help him read the fine print. Many colleges and universities these days have degree deadlines: a student in a bachelor’s degree program may be allowed only four years from start to finish. This means that students have to be on top of things from the start, wasting no time in taking courses that are needed for every major. Often, such courses are hard to get in to, since everyone needs them. Help your student understand the rules and regulations. Make sure he knows how to find his academic advisor.

Understand the limits of your role. My oldest son startled me by answering my inquiry about his first-quarter grades by saying that he didn’t have to tell me what his grades were and he wasn’t going to. And, of course, he was right. Colleges cannot by law share information about your student’s grades and her professors and advisors not only don’t want to hear from you, they cannot talk with you. Your teen also doesn’t have to tell you anything she doesn’t want you to know and it’s not nice to try to make her do so.

Realize that the kid who comes home for Thanksgiving is not who you dropped off in the fall. Going away to college is a huge step in growing towards adulthood. The child who comes back for the first visit in November has lived for three months on his own, making his own decisions, managing his own affairs, learning how to be independent. He’s not the same person you used to know. And that’s good. That’s what you want. It’s just hard to remember that sometimes.

If your child is living at home instead of going away, all the same ideas apply. But you as her parent may have to work harder to avoid managing her college life. College is important because of what your teen learns and that includes everything she will learn outside the classroom. The smart parent makes certain their college-bound teen has the advantage of using this rich experience to become more adult.


© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.