In their first year of college, teens are facing a lot of new pressures and experiences. From adjusting to lecture halls and dorm rooms to choosing party time and study time, the decisions a teen makes during her first year will have a big influence on the habits she forms, and will ultimately impact her overall college experience.
An unprepared teen is more likely to fall into a state of overwhelm and stress because she doesn’t know how to handle the newfound freedom or make thoughtful decisions. She might skip study time in favor of parties. Before too long, her grades will slip, stress will mount, and she will need to figure out how to get herself back on track.
The prepared teen, on the other hand, starts college with a sense of direction and an understanding of her priorities. She is able to maintain a balance between fun and study. She hits the books more often than she hits the parties and aligns herself with people who inspire and empower her. She is grounded and aware of how to handle stress, so she is not easily derailed.
Whether your teen is settling into her dorm or still packing her bags, consider how prepared she is and where you can take action to support her as she moves into this next stage of life.
Listen to my conversation with a past college-age client
The prepared teen knows how to make thoughtful decisions.
She can think ahead, identify the desired outcome, and determine the steps that take her from where she is to where she wants to be; she can anticipate the consequences of her decisions
Parent action: To help her with decision-making, ask questions that help her connect with her desired outcome. Help her feel a sense of control by asking, “What choices do you have?” “How does … decision affect your overall goals?” Connect her choices to her personal strengths. For example, if perseverance is one of her strengths, you might point out how this might lead her to asking for help from a teacher. If you know that courage is one of her strengths, it may enable her to push herself to sign up for more challenging classes.
The prepared teen knows how to prioritize her time and manage her money.
For most teens, college is the first time that they have to take charge of their own schedule. From classes and study time to self-care and social time, college students juggle a lot. For many, it is also their first experience managing money on their own.
Parent action: Teach your teen a strategy for time management that will help her cultivate balance and reduce stress. Time blocking or using an online calendar with alerts or a handwritten planner can be helpful tools for teens. It is also important to provide your teen with tools and insight for how to manage her money. Teach her how to create and follow a budget. If you are providing a monthly deposit, clarify your expectations for how she uses these funds. You may also want to develop a spreadsheet so she can see where her money is going. Developing financial literacy is key for college and future success.
The prepared teen is connected to a vision.
Students who start college with an idea of what they want to experience and how they want to develop are more directed and self-assured. A vision also serves as a plan for how to handle new situations and challenges that arise in college. When a vision is inspired by personal values, it becomes a guide for making decisions that will lead to the best outcome.
Parent action: Ask your teen how she sees herself going through her college days. How does she make friends? What kind of people does she see herself surrounded by? What does she think are the keys to getting along with her roommate and doing well in school? What challenges can she foresee? Remind her, if she can see it, she can achieve it!
The prepared teen knows how to effectively communicate.
Self-advocating becomes very important in college. Your teen will have to speak up to friends, teachers, administrators, and other adults. She will need to tap into the courage and confidence to lean into difficult conversations, ask for help or clarification, and get what she needs.
Parent action: Highlight past experiences when your teen advocated for herself. Remind her of the mindsets and approaches that helped. Avoid stepping in to solve her problems. Instead, assist and parent-coach her in how to do it on her own. This may require talking through various approaches, role-playing, or offering your perspective of the best way to handle a situation.
The prepared teen has and uses a support system.
No matter what stage of life, we all need support. This can come from family, friends, teachers, colleagues, or professionals. It is especially important for first-year college students to know who is in their support system. During this stage, teens should reach beyond their parents when they need advice, encouragement, or perspective. This is part of developing healthy independence.
Parent action: Talk with your teen about forming her support system. Identify who she can call when she needs help and when she may go through something that she doesn’t want to share with you. Find out what support is offered right on campus. Encourage her to reach out to others and identify which person is best for different situations. Remind her that asking for help from someone outside the immediate family may feel uncomfortable at first, but it is ultimately an act of courage and self-care.