For many parents, this spring marks the last few months your high school senior will live at home. Before you know it, you will be packing them up, along with their hopes and dreams and a plastic shower caddy, for the next chapter in life: college.
We the editorial staff at Your Teen Magazine have a lot of combined experience with this stage of adolescence. It’s exciting, terrifying, stressful, and sublime—all at the same time. What do we know about sending kids to college? Whether it’s your first child going to college or your last, here’s our list of what we know.
Your Child Leaving For College. 20 Things We Know
- This is harder on you than on them. They’re heading off to exciting new places and experiences, and the best four years of their young lives. But you? Your baby is leaving. You’ll walk past an empty bedroom every day. It takes a while for the hole in your family to heal, but it will, and a new family dynamic will soon take shape. Besides—they’ll probably text you before drop off day is even over.
- You will have the overwhelming urge to baby them. Favorite breakfasts, buying them things they want but don’t really need, finding ways to have extra family outings together. This chapter of your life as a family is coming to an end, and there is nothing wrong with wanting to savor every last moment before they’re off into the world. And they are totally going to milk it, too.
- They may screw up, badly, at the end of the year. Some kids, like baby birds, foul the nest before they leave. Your honor student has been working so hard for so long that the wheels may come off a little this last semester. It might take the form of “senioritis” with blown off homework or skipping class, or getting busted drinking underage. They’re still good kids, and this, too, shall pass.
- They will be emotional. Your son or daughter is saying a lot of goodbyes. They are trying to do a lot of things “for the last time.” Deep down, they know everything will change after high school ends. The summer will be filled with days and nights of sadness as they say goodbye to their friends. They may be open about their emotions, or they may hide them—but this might explain occasional moodiness during what you may think should be a golden time.
- You don’t have to buy everything on the “what to bring” list. You really don’t. We want to buy everything as a way of showing our kids how much we love them—but there is probably a Target wherever your student is headed, or Amazon will get it there in a day or two. But don’t skip the mattress pad because those dorm room mattresses are super uncomfortable.
- You may have a lump in your throat all summer. All the excitement of deciding on a college will end, graduation from high school will be over. Then reality will hit you. Go cry in your closet or the garage where they can’t see you. It helps (a little) with the big ugly cry when they actually leave
- It’s also okay if you’re ready for them to leave. You may be just as ready for your restless 18-year-old to leave your house and be done with curfews, messy rooms, and handing over your car keys. Or you’re just excited and happy for them to begin this new phase. Even if everyone else is sobbing and sad, it’s perfectly normal to be happy to let them go out into the world.
- Don’t expect to see your son/daughter much this summer. You may envision spending lots of time together holding hands and making memories. They want to spend as much time with their friends as possible. Don’t take it personally.
- Go to orientation. Most colleges have an orientation weekend where your student will register for classes, meet other students, and do silly “getting to know you” type activities. Don’t blow this off: It’s a great dry run for when drop off day comes. For both of you. And maybe meet a few new friends.
- They might be nervous. Everyone will ask your son or daughter “Are you excited?” a million times this summer. They might feel that they should be wildly excited, but in actuality, they are anxious about a hundred things at once.
- Everything is going to work out. You don’t know beforehand, but in spite of whatever disappointments, surprises, or headaches got you and your son or daughter to this point, everything has a way of turning out okay. Most of the things that we as parents worry about don’t happen.
- Brace yourself for feeling competitive. Most parents feel they need to send their kids to college with only the essentials. Other parents may deck out their kids’ dorm rooms so it looks like they hired an interior decorator. And don’t forget the kids who show up wearing expensive brand-name clothes. In those moments, you may also feel vulnerable, jealous, and competitive, just like your teen does.
- There is still so much to tell them. Where did the last 18 years go? Have you talked to them yet about the buddy system at parties, or STIs, eating a balanced diet, or how important it is to separate their dark clothes from the whites? Start talking now while they’re still at home.
- So. Much. Stuff. Seriously. Gone are the days where you took one duffel bag to college. Our kids have so much more stuff than we did. We had three pairs of shoes total when we left home.
- Don’t get too excited about that new roommate. They might meet on social media this summer and be BFFs immediately—or they may irritate each other from day one. Don’t sweat it. Roommates will not determine your child’s college experience.
- Don’t forget about younger siblings. All this attention on the kid leaving for college can make them feel overlooked or neglected. This may also be a sad or emotional time for younger siblings. Things are going to be different for them, too.
- Most will be homesick. They seem so confident and eager to get away from home, but whether they know it or not, there will be times ahead where they are apprehensive about the unknown. Talk to them now about how to deal with those emotions and possible coping skills so they’re prepared.
- Buy flip flops for the shower. Your son or daughter will not be prepared for how nasty communal bathrooms are.
- Some dads take goodbye harder than the moms. This will surprise everyone.
- We raise our kids to leave us. It’s hard, but you’ve been preparing for this moment for the last 18 years. Congratulations on a job well done.