The summer after your child graduates high school and prepares to leave for college is an emotional one. You watched with buttons-busting pride as they finished one milestone. As they begin the next one, you can’t help but feel some amount of trepidation.
You recognize that your child isn’t a kid anymore and is ready to assume adulthood. Before they embark on that journey, you wonder whether you have fulfilled your parental duty. Have you adequately prepared them to leave the nest?
College should be a great experience for them, and you don’t want to put a damper on their enthusiasm. Nonetheless, there may still be a few things you and they need to talk about before they pack their bags. Here are four conversations you should have with your grad before they head off to college.
1. Safe Sex and Birth Control
No doubt, you had the birds-and-the-bees talk with your child a long time ago. You might also have talked to them about birth control and safe sex, but it’s conversation that bears repeating.
If you have a daughter, you’ve probably discussed birth control or had her talk to a doctor about it. This is a conversation you should have with sons, too. After all, unprotected sex can lead to parenthood regardless of gender! Lesson No. 1 should be that birth control is not just the responsibility of the female member of a couple.
Online birth control is a great option for busy college students whose doctors and pharmacies are back home. Some online providers also offer patients text and video consults about birth control as well as screenings for sexually transmitted infections. Birth control and STI tests can be delivered discreetly to their campus mailbox.
No parent wants to think about STIs, but their prevalence is staggering and growing. No method of birth control, other than condoms, protects against these infections. Sons and daughters should prepare accordingly to avoid contracting one.
If your child is preparing to leave for college, they’re a long way from the birds and the bees. It’s better to learn about safe sex from a parent than the word on the quad. If you don’t think you can have this potentially lifesaving conversation with your child, ask a health professional to help.
2. Alcohol and Drugs
College students will have more exposure to alcohol and drugs than they ever have. Even if your child has always trod the straight and narrow, they may not resist the temptation in college. Out from under your watchful eye, they may want to experiment in places other than the chemistry lab.
This may be another conversation you’ve had with them before. But the culture of college life on many campuses makes access to illicit substances pretty effortless. In some situations, students don’t even have to pay for the right to partake.
College also presents a new level of peer pressure as students try to make new friends and fit in. Students might think a couple of vodka shots or a little weed might ease their anxiety. Plus, there’s the absence of that fear of going home to parents at the end of the night.
You need to talk about the importance of never accepting a drink they didn’t pour themselves or watched being poured. If they do, they’re much less likely to be victims of a date-rape drug. Buddying up with a sober friend to protect them from that and drive them back to the dorm is smart advice.
Underscore the importance of avoiding anything illegal. Futures are ruined by convictions for DUIs and possession of illegal drugs and paraphernalia. Remind them that they’re an adult, and they need to behave like one or pay the piper.
3. Responsibility and Accountability
One of the nice things about college is that it provides that bridge between childhood and self-sufficient adulthood. Living in campus housing is more independent than living at home, but it offers more support than living alone. Parents aren’t putting dinner directly in front of them, but students have access to meal plans, cafeterias, and snack bars. Still, they need to make time to feed themselves, and the onus for eating healthy is on them.
Most of all, no one is there to make sure students go to class, complete assigned work, and study for tests. College kids need to understand that they’ll be responsible for themselves in ways they’ve never been. They’ll also be accountable for their own success or failure.
Have a conversation about their responsibility to further their education so they can achieve their life goals. If you and/or someone else is making a financial investment in their college education, they have an obligation to them. Whether college ends up being the right choice for your child or not, they need to make an honest attempt.
See that they’re on a budget and talk about the importance of sticking to it. College is the perfect time to figure out how the real world works before they step into it. Make sure they know the total price tag each semester for tuition, fees, room and board, and books.
Although it has been said many ways by many people, with freedom comes great responsibility. College should be a time of exploration and one last period that’s relatively free from the obligations of adulthood. Understanding that should help your student successfully cross the latter bridge when they come to it.
4. Staying in Touch
It’s easy for new college students to get incredibly caught up in the excitement of their newfound freedom. It’s so easy, in fact, that they literally forget to call home. For you, it may be the first time you’ve gone a single day without talking to your child.
As an adult, you know how important it is to maintain relationships in life. However, your 18-year-old may require a friendly conversation on the subject. Putting childish things behind them doesn’t mean shelving family and friends.
You should talk to your student about your expectations for communication while they’re away. These will differ from family to family, and they depend on your current relationship. Reaching a consensus about the frequency and mode of communication should be your goal.
In addition to parents, students should keep up relationships with grandparents, siblings, and other significant family members. They should also consider best friends who may not be going to college or to the same college. Kids may regret not maintaining those relationships someday when they’re older.
Mobile phones, texts, emails, and social media make it incredibly easy to stay in touch. College life will change a lot of things, but important relationships will always need some care and attention. Talking about staying in touch should put the expectation on your student’s radar, even if it needs recalibrating from time to time.
Parenting may never be tougher than the moment you drive away from campus, leaving your child behind. All you can do is hope that you have spent their lifetime successfully preparing them for this moment. Ultimately, your child embodies an 18-year investment in teaching them to make smart decisions.
Some of the conversations you need to have before they leave for college aren’t easy. In fact, they can be downright uncomfortable. But having them helps give your child those wings they need to fly safely from the nest.