It’s very exciting (and challenging) when kids go off to college! It marks a new phase of life for both parents and kids. I have a good friend whose daughter is going to Lewis and Clark in Portland this fall. Her younger brother, just starting high school, has already staked out her room. He’s ready to move in!
Older siblings are not sure they are so happy about losing their bedroom. In many ways, prospective college freshman want everything to stay the same at home while they start a new independent life away from home. For them, this transition is exciting and scary too. Keeping things the same at home can provide a sense of security.
The summer before the big departure can be stressful too. Kids can be anxious and worried about what it will be like, how they will do in school, whether they will make friends, or draw the roommate from hell. Some kids act like “it’s no big deal” too. But I think mostly that is adolescent bravado. It is a big deal. It’s the beginning of adult life. And they know it.
Sometimes, this anxiety comes out when getting everything ready for the big day. All of sudden kids get anxious that they won’t have absolutely everything they need! What if they forget something? What if they don’t have the coolest electronic gear or clothing? Their social anxiety can get attached to having the right stuff.
Many kids want more independence the summer before they leave. “Hey, are you going to tell me when to come home at night when I’m at college?” they snort. Eighteen year olds are such smart-alecks! Maybe these challenges make it easier for everyone to separate in the fall.
It’s important to remind departing teens that living with a family is different than living in a dormitory. There are certain expectations that come along with living in a family unit—such as it’s members letting each other know when they will be home and where they are going! And a reasonable curfew still makes sense. Parents, don’t let out too much rope!
It can be tough for parents too. It was very hard for me when my oldest daughter went off to college. I felt extremely sad. I mourned the end of her childhood and I worried about how our relationship would change. For several reasons, I brought her to college by myself. I will always remember that goodbye. My eyes were filled with tears, which I didn’t let her see. I didn’t want her to feel burdened by my sadness—even though I was happy too. It is necessary to let go.
When teens leave for college, one phase of family is ending while a new one is beginning. Younger kids may anticipate missing their older brother, while at the same time look forward to getting more attention. If they are teens, they may worry that they will now be under the parental microscope. I think my younger daughter enjoyed being an only child living at home. I remember feeling very sad when my older brothers went off to college. They were a huge part of my support system and I missed them terribly. But like all kids, I adjusted over time.
What’s the good news and the bad news? College is in session only 30 weeks a year, which leaves 22 weeks a year that they will probably be home. If they are going to college nearby, expect to see them more weekends than you imagine. College freshman have been known to come home most weekends. And when they do come home, they may return to their high school self—mess and all.
Share your experiences with your college bound kids!