Another mass rite of passage will take place over the next few weeks, as college freshmen pack their comforters, laptops, alarm clocks and laundry baskets and head off to campus to begin lives as independent adults.
The pride and excitement parents feel for their teenager may be tinged with heartbreak (especially if there aren’t younger children still at home) and concern about how he or she will fare without their daily guidance.
Before moving day, NewBridge Services Chief Operating Officer Michelle Borden recommends parents have a heart-to-heart with their teen about ways they can stay healthy and avoid common pitfalls of newfound independence.
“You may want to lay down the law, but do it in a way that’s more of an adult conversation so they know what your expectations are,’’ said Borden, a licensed clinical social worker. Topics could include nutrition, sleep, and alcohol and drug use, keeping up with assignments and grades, and managing extracurricular activities. For teens who have struggled with stress during high school, Borden suggests parents urge them to investigate on-campus mental health resources.
Parents and teens should also talk about how to keep in touch, now that they won’t see each other daily. “Find a new normal for communicating,’’ Borden said.
Texting is a good option, she said. It’s fine to send a text ever few days “saying you want to hear how things are going. Ask about what activities they’re getting involved in and what their classes are like,’’ Borden recommended. “Stay away from saying things like, ‘we really miss you here.’ Let your child guide the discussion about whether they are homesick or not.”
Sending care packages is another way to show your love. “Just be sure to text your child to check the mail!’’ she said, noting teens aren’t always attuned to checking snail mail.
The winter break will be a key time for parents and teen to discuss how the first semester went, and how to address any problems their child had. “If your teen is failing classes, you can’t ignore that. Talk openly about the consequences of not meeting classroom expectations as they relate to tuition, costs of repeating classes, and the impact on any scholarships.”
Hopefully, parents won’t have to have that conversation. For now, parents should focus on steeling themselves for drop-off day.
“It’s scary for parents to back off and let go,’’ Borden said. “Leave your child with words of love and encouragement, not reproaches about keeping their room clean. Say, ‘we love you, we’re proud of you, we are here for you, and now, you are off on your newest adventure!’ Then, don’t look back.”
NewBridge Services is a nonprofit providing counseling, housing and educational programs in Sussex, Morris and Passic counties. NewBridge serves more than 8,500 children, adults and seniors each year. Throughout its more than 50-year history, NewBridge has remained true to its mission of bringing balance to people’s lives by tracking shifts in communities’ needs and providing innovative, effective programs to meet them.