Off to College: A Guide for Champions


Off to College: A Guide for Champions

by Dara Mathis
July 25, 2018
A mother helps her daughter pack the car to go to college

Sending your young person off to college can be an exciting moment for the both of you, whether your student is a new or a returning one. However, the separation might bring you—the parent or mentor—a little anxiety about challenges your young person might face and how you can help them transition into this new phase of their life apart from you: adulthood. It’s completely normal not to have all the answers! As you send your young one back to school, here are some things you can do as a parent, guardian, or trusted adult to ease both you and your student into college life.

Establish Boundaries and Expectations Early

College can be another word for “freedom” for many young people, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You’ve spent their whole lives preparing them for this moment, right? But there are limitations to any kind of freedom, and you and your young person should definitely have a conversation about the boundaries and expectations you have for each other while they are at school. Some things you can discuss: How frequently would they like to keep in contact with you? What are your expectations about studying habits, grades, or communication about school work? Don’t put this conversation off for later; getting it all out in the open early will set you both on the right footing to begin the school year.

Help Them Create a New Trusted Community

Even if your young person is not leaving their state, city, or even the house to attend college, it’s still going to be a new environment for them. A college campus can feel worlds away from what they are used to. Encourage them to make new friends at their own pace, and continue to show interest in their life outside of school work. 

It is also wise to enlist the help of other on-campus officials and advisors to make their college life a successful one. Make sure they have easy access to these phone numbers:

  • The campus health center office 
  • The campus mental health counselor 
  • The academic advising office

College students need as much support—off and on-campus—as they can get. Tapping into the many resources at their school will help provide them with an immediate safety net in your absence.

Let's Talk About Sex

We know it’s not always easy to have difficult conversations with your young person, but this one is especially important. Hopefully, as a trusted voice in their lives, you’ve been able to talk about healthy sexual behavior and how they can protect themselves when and if they decide to become sexually active. You will want to revisit “The Talk” again before they go back to school. Remind them of the importance of consent for each and every sexual interaction.

If your young person doesn’t yet have a preferred method of birth control, you can go over their options with them or recommend they speak to their health provider to answer any questions they may have. Have them download the Bedsider reminder app for entertaining and helpful reminders that will keep them on track with taking their birth control during those jam-packed college days.

Of course, all methods of birth control do not prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Encourage your young person to use dual protection (a condom to prevent STIs and another form of birth control for extra pregnancy prevention) and get tested frequently. Your willingness to help them take responsibility for their sex life is an important part of sending them to college with the power to decide if, when, and under what circumstances to get pregnant.

And Don’t Forget Drinking, Drugs, and Partying

Be sure to include a discussion about drinking alcohol (and why they should wait until they are of legal age to do it), illicit drugs, and partying. 

Parties are a normal and fun part of college life, but they can also present opportunities for students to put themselves or others in danger. Remind your young person to practice safe behavior at parties. This can include:

  • watching the “bartender” pour their drink

  • never letting their drink out of their sight
  • being mindful of their level of alcohol tolerance (i.e. don’t overdo it)
  • never drinking and driving under the influence or even while buzzed (call an Uber, Lyft, or a cab)
  • never taking an unknown substance from strangers—or even friends
  • remembering the “buddy system” and looking out for the friends who came with them
  • keeping their phone charged in case of emergencies 

Keep the Communication Lines—and Your Arms—Open

After you’ve packed and unpacked the car, and set up their dorm room, it’s time to let your college student spread their wings. You have prepared them to do their best. But what happens if college throws them unexpected curveballs? What happens if they feel overwhelmed and reluctant to disappoint you with their bad grades, bad news, or bad days? 

Remember that college can introduce many different kinds of stressors into your student’s life, and they will still need your support, even if they have trouble asking for it. Keep an eye out for signs of depression or anxiety. If they begin to fall out of contact with you, respect the boundaries they have set but let them know you are available to talk whenever they’re ready. 

College forces many young people to try to balance both their family’s expectations and their own hopes and dreams for their lives. Keeping your arms open to them even if they fail to fulfill some of your educational expectations might be challenging, but they will appreciate it.

Celebrate Good Times, C'mon! 

Finally, remember to celebrate—this milestone is a great achievement for you both! With help from you as their parent, guardian, or trusted champion, your young person will have a valuable resource and support network to foster their success as a college student and an adult.