There’s plenty of advice available to parents about when to have The Talk with their children. (If you’re a parent reading this, you undoubtedly know which one I’m referring to, and if you’re a child reading this and you don’t, well, ask your mother.) But as your son or daughter gets ready to make the transition from high school to college, there is another talk you should have with them that goes beyond your expectations for him and her while they’re away. Arming your child with the basics about college life is important, and will help him or her with this large life change. Let’s look at some of the things you might want to discuss before you unload their stuff into the dorm on Move-In Weekend.
Let’s be honest: there are going to be parties on your child’s college campus, even if he or she didn’t pick a notorious party school, and your student will likely attend a few. It’s important to remind your student, however, that alcohol – regardless of their opinion of what the drinking age should be, and regardless of what is acceptable in the confines of your home – is illegal for individuals who are under 21 if they’re studying in the United States. If they’re caught with alcohol, it might not simply be a matter between them and their college: it could potentially be a criminal matter as well.
That said, the chances are good that your child will encounter alcohol, or people who have been drinking, when they’re on campus. Be realistic about your expectations, and be clear about being responsible if they do choose to drink. You might not be able to shield them from alcohol, but the chances are good that you’ve raised them to be responsible individuals – even when drinking is involved.
Class Attendance and Academic Performance
Some students may be self-starters, setting their own alarms to get up for class during high school. Others may have been woken up to the stern sound of your voice for the past 13 years or so. Either way, college comes with much less structure than your child has been used to, and that will take some adjustment on their part. They should know by now whether they’re a morning person or a night person, and their schedule during college should reflect that. Can they never wake up before noon? An 8AM class probably isn’t the best choice for them. With that in mind, make sure your student has a schedule that is reasonable for them to manage based on their own habits.
It’s important that they’re aware that many colleges now have attendance policies and keep track whenever they miss class. Gone are the days when students didn’t need to show up and could still manage a decent grade in the class. Non-attendance may lower their grade in a class – and, unlike high school – classes don’t meet on a daily basis, so even missing one can put them seriously behind. This goes double for classes that only meet once per week.
In addition, their campus is going to take some getting used to; the ten minutes in between a class that ends at 12:50 and the next that starts at 1 might not be enough time to get from building to building. Make sure they schedule enough time to navigate from class to class, and to fit in meals as well.
It may seem as though, as a parent, you’re a living, breathing ATM, dispensing $20s on demand, but college will require a bit more financial planning on your student’s part. That’s another, sometimes unofficial class that comes with enrolling in college. It’s important that your student knows how much money is available for them to spend so that they don’t go blowing through it in a few weeks – especially if they’re not going to be working. Your student should learn to work within a budget, and it’s important that you help them to do it. It may not always be fun, but part of the point of college is to prepare them for what’s coming next (The Real World), and budgets are going to be a part of that.
This touchy topic is no one’s favorite. Yes, everyone is going to be embarrassed when it gets brought up, but it is important that there is some communication about sex before your child heads off to college.
Make sure your child knows about birth control, about STDs, about pregnancy, and about where to get help if he or she needs it (and isn’t comfortable asking you for it). Make sure your student knows that drinking doesn’t excuse inappropriate sexual behavior, and make sure that they understand that just because “everyone else is doing it” doesn’t mean they have to, and the decision to have sex is a personal choice. We aren’t saying you need to scare them into taking a vow of celibacy (unless you really want to try), but we do recommend honesty.
Respect for Other Students
Regardless of where your child grew up, the chance that he or she is going to run into someone with different beliefs while at college is a near certainty. Democrats will meet Republicans, Christians will meet Muslims, Carnivores will meet Vegans. It’s important that your child understands that, regardless of whether or not they agree with the ideas of people they meet, they still need to respect them. (In reality, this idea should be spread far beyond college campuses.)
It’s not a matter of adopting every new idea they hear as their own, but it is a matter of being able to appreciate the differences in others. And they should expect the same from those they come in contact with as well.
It’s going to be hard for your child (and you) when you’ve dropped them off at school and you’re making the trek back home. In fact, it’s probable that your student is going to experience homesickness. That’s OK. Make sure your student knows that they can always call (or Facetime, or Skype) just to say hello – and know that they should expect the same from you. It might not need to be an hour-long session on a nightly basis, but it’s good to catch up at least once per week to see how things are going – and you can always text each other in between if the need arises. Everyone wants their space, now it’s just a matter of finding the right balance.
College is going to be a new experience for your child. Regardless of the setting of the campus – city, suburb, middle-of-nowhere – your student needs to be aware of their surroundings. That’s the key to remaining safe when they’re on campus or off of it exploring the neighboring areas. They don’t all need to carry mace with them, but if they feel like something is off about a place or situation, they should trust that instinct.
Most of these things have to do with what your student SHOULDN’T do when they go off to college, but this is something they should: get involved, and do it as soon as they get on campus. It doesn’t matter what they choose to involve themselves with as much as it does that they’re actually involved.
Whether they’re playing intramural Quidditch (yes, it exists), becoming activists for animal rights, or simply trying out something new that they hadn’t heard of previously, your child should find some clubs to get involved with. Doing so will help them meet new people, and settle into the college experience much more quickly when they link up with like-minded individuals. As always, they shouldn’t spread themselves so thin that their schoolwork will take a hit (since that’s the primary reason they’re going to college, right?), but they should absolutely try out some new things, and keep up the activities they already enjoy.