Parents of high school seniors get caught up in the emotional moments and “last” experiences they are having with their kids. I remember marking each “last” event with my kids with a catch in my throat and a camera in my hand – I didn’t want to miss a thing. At the same time, I knew I had to give them the space and privacy to experience their senior years without mom hovering and commenting – though I participated as much as they would allow me to. Fortunately, that was quite a bit. We hosted football pre-game dinners, prom after parties, holiday show choir gift exchanges, and countless gatherings of friends at our house. I loved it all. But even during all the fun, there were practical matters to be dealt with – some of which had to do with getting them ready to leave home and survive and succeed in college.
There were a few conversations that weren’t fun, or easy, but they were necessary. If your senior is gone more than he or she is home, grab a few minutes here and there and get their attention so you can share your bits of wisdom before they leave for college. They may not seem to be paying attention, but they’ll remember what you say, I promise. Just like your kids are constantly on your mind, your voice is consistently in their heads.
Here are some of the conversations we had.
1. Go to class. Do your homework.
This may seem obvious, but there’s a huge amount of freedom – and responsibility – that many kids are experiencing for the first time. Remind them WHY they’re going to college – to get an education. And don’t stop reminding them. It’s all fun and games until someone fails a class.
2. Get them birth control. Talk to them about sex.
I realize that some parents aren’t comfortable talking about this with their children. Some parents believe that by helping their child get birth control they are endorsing sexual experimentation. Here’s the thing – unless your beliefs are such that premarital sex is unacceptable, it’s quite possible that your child will have some sort of sexual experience while in college, if he or she hasn’t already. Being properly equipped to be safe and prevent pregnancy is sensible. You might want to caution your child about the treacherous emotional ups and downs that can come with sexual experimentation. If you’re not comfortable talking to your child about this, find a family friend or relative who is. Give them the control they need to protect themselves.
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3. Remind them to stay clean and change their sheets.
I know, you’d think they’d understand this by now, but in many ways your 18 year old is still a child. Soap, toothbrush and toothpaste – send them with plenty of these. As for changing their sheets – who hasn’t heard stories of kids who didn’t change their sheets their entire freshman year? Some of them honestly have no clue unless we tell them – and show them how.
4. Don’t pick up a drink after putting it down.
I started telling both my son and daughter this when they started high school, and continued to remind them of this when they were in college (and beyond). Never, ever leave a drink at a party or gathering and go back to get it. Be smart and think defensively.
5. Travel with a buddy.
Be safe. My daughter went to school in a big city, my son in a smaller one. In both cases, I emphasized to them that it’s always better to walk places at night – and even during the day – with someone beside you. Besides, it’s a good way to get to know people.
Which leads to…
6. Make new friends. Be a joiner. Push yourself.
In the age of social media and texting it can be easy to rely on friends from home to continue to be confidantes and the first place to go for emotional support. It’s so important to find those connections at college with new friends. It doesn’t mean you have to give up your old friends – but it does mean you have to let go just a little. Try new things – clubs, Greek life, intramural sports, study groups. Don’t miss any opportunity to connect with people, and try not to judge people too quickly.
7. Keep in touch with your family – beyond mom and dad.
Email, call, text – especially grandparents. They want to hear from you. They love you. Don’t forget about them. Siblings, too. You may be away from home, but you’re still a member of your family. And when those 4 years are over and you’re a full-grown adult, family will be more important than you could have imagined. And don’t forget – write a thank you note for any gift you get from your family, be it a check or a candy bar. An email is fine, too.