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10 Conversations for the Summer Before College

Suzanne Shaffer

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If you have a college-bound teen in your house, the summer before college can be stressful. As a parent, you're dealing with a myriad of emotions. On one hand, you're excited about your student’s future as they head off on the road to adulthood; on the other, you're aware they might not be quite ready for the journey.

When my daughter left for college, she'd just turned 18. She'd chosen a school 1,500 miles away from home. She'd never lived apart from family and friends, and I was concerned about her ability to adapt to a completely different environment. I knew I had the summer to initiate some important conversations with her, and I did.

These 10 conversations should help your student prepare for college and start their first year with confidence.

1. Choose your friends wisely.

College friends will impact your student’s academic success and social stability. These friends will be their family away from home and help them adjust to being on their own.

Discuss the impact these friendships can have in both a positive and negative way. Your student has already experienced peer pressure in high school, but college peer pressure will be different — you won’t be there to meet their friends and give advice.

2. Study first, then play.

College academics are much more rigorous than high school. The reading is extensive. The homework can be overwhelming. The study requirements can be brutal.

Studying should always be a priority. If it isn’t, your student's first semester of college could be their last. But all work and no play can be harmful as well. Socializing is a part of college life and should be embraced, and getting involved with campus groups and activities will help your student make a happy adjustment to their new environment.

3. Don’t look in the rearview mirror.

Sometimes a student’s high school and childhood friends, or significant other, can bring them down. If they're experiencing homesickness, that pull to return home from the friends who stayed can be strong.

Remind your student to always look ahead and stay focused on the future. Even though the comfort of the familiar may seem easy, there are new experiences and friendships to explore.

4. Start planning for graduation.

This might seem premature, but four years will pass quickly. Remind your student to take advantage of every opportunity that prepares them for life after graduation.

They should make connections with alumni, seek out internship opportunities, visit the career center, and develop relationships with their professors. These early preparations can mean the difference between having a job secured in their field of study or scrambling to find any employment to pay the bills.

5. Resolve conflict immediately.

Roommate conflicts will occur in college. Your student's first instinct will be to ignore the problem and hope it goes away. Speaking from experience with my daughter, it only gets worse. Most of the angst she experienced with her roommates could have been avoided if she simply had a conversation and voiced her concerns. For the worst problems, encourage your student to go to their RA (Resident Assistant) for mediation.

In all situations and relationships, self-advocacy is an important life skill your student should work on throughout their college years.

6. Your professors are your friends.

Your student’s professors will be key players in their college success. Encourage them to establish relationships early and cultivate them.

Professors do more than teach — they can be a valuable resource for networking, mentoring, tutoring, teaching and research assistant (TA and RA) opportunities, and much more. Urge your student to take advantage of their professors' office hours!

7. Avoid risky behavior.

Peer pressure in college can be even greater than in high school. Your student is alone, surrounded by all types of risky behavioral choices. You aren’t there to pull in the reins, and they are free to go in any direction they choose.

Reinforce the conversations you had in the past about these dangers and help them understand that poor choices have consequences. Talk to them about the prevalence of alcohol on campus and what it means to drink responsibly. Discuss sexual health, healthy relationships, and consent, too.

What you should know about the Red Zone >

8. Don’t neglect your mental health.

First and foremost, remind them they are not alone. Researchers at American College Health Association found that nearly 40 percent of college students reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult for them to function. And 61 percent of students said they felt overwhelming anxiety in the same time period.

Being away from home and adding the stress of transition into a college environment are key factors impacting your student’s mental health. Talk with them about the importance of communication and openness regarding feelings of depression and/or stress. Let them know there's help on campus and they should never be ashamed to ask for it.

Find more resources for supporting your student's mental health >

9. Not everyone is trustworthy.

It goes without saying that not everyone your student meets while in college can be trusted. Be sure to talk about campus safety, and share tips like not walking alone at night on campus, having a buddy system at parties, and using smartphone apps to alert if an emergency arises.

You should also review the importance of protecting their belongings when away from their dorm, their banking information and credit cards, and their passwords to social media accounts and other online sites.

10. Master these life skills.

Does your student have the basic independent living skills to survive on their own at college? You might think they know this stuff already, but it’s a good idea to go over it anyway.

In one season of American Housewife, the parents created a list of “adult” tasks for their teenage daughter to master before college. The list included things like budgeting, changing a tire, making a doctor’s appointment, self-advocating, resolving conflict, and more. Your list may be different, but you know what your own student needs to become a responsible, independent adult.

And one extra conversation for good measure...

11. Carpe Diem — Seize the Day!

The experiences my daughter had in college are some of her most treasured memories. Studying abroad, spring break trips with friends, her sorority sisters and galas, and admired professors shaped her and live on in her heart. College is certainly an academic pursuit, but it can be so much more if your student takes advantage of every opportunity and enjoys every moment.

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Suzanne Shaffer counsels students and families through her blog, Parenting for College. Her advice has been featured in print and online on Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance, U.S. News College, TeenLife, Smart College Visit, Road2College and more.
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