Michele was just crawling and babbling at your feet. Nakhil lost his first tooth. Stacia got her training wheels off, and Jabal took his first swing at bat. And yet the time has already come for your family and teen to face a much bigger right of passage: Your teen is leaving the nest to head off to boarding school or college. The day you thought would never come (or maybe the day you’ve been awaiting!) is on the horizon, but you need some tools to navigate this new season with confidence. As educational consultants, we’ve faced this delicate stage hundreds of times with our clients.
Before the final goodbye hug on the dorm stairs, parents and teens should discuss these seven topics that are crucial for a successful transition from living at home to living on your own.
First, let’s talk about life skills. Before your teen leaves home, he has to hone some essential skills to survive and thrive in a new, more independent world.
Several weeks before the move out date, brainstorm with your teen any tasks he will be responsible for now that he wasn't before.
Has she been doing her own laundry? If not, make sure she knows how to do laundry and practices a few times. Does he know how to cook basic meals? Ordering frequent takeout can become costly and also unhealthy if indulged in too often, so review some basic cooking skills.
Before leaving home, be sure your student knows how to:
A great resource guide for these simple new life skills is Catherine Newman’s handy (and hilarious!) guide, How to Be A Person. Pick up a copy for your child, and have him review it a bit before he departs.
Discuss your family’s approach to handling and managing finances while away. What will you be willing to pay for to continue to support your teen, and what will now be her responsibility? Will your boarding school student be doing a work-study program to help contribute to tuition? Will your college student have an on- or off-campus job? What expenses will be her responsibility and what will you be covering? Will you be covering cell phone costs? Automobile insurance? Dinners out?
Set up a bank account near or on campus and determine if you will have Apple Pay or other payments attached to her cell phone. Revisit this conversation periodically as both of your financial situations can change over time. Consider checking out the book Why Didn’t They Teach Me This in School? as a conversation starter.
Whether it is a simple common cold, an unfortunate hangover, or something as serious as a concussion, your teen not only needs to know when to seek professional help but also how to be able to self-treat some simple medical situations. Create a kit of essential and basic first-aid items: bandages, antibacterial ointment, acetaminophen or ibuprofen with instructions on how to use them safely. Your kit could also include saltine or oyster crackers, Gatorade, ginger ale, antacids, and for sure a copy of The Ultimate College Student Health Handbook by Dr. Jill Grimes for useful advice.
Staying healthy also pertains to your student’s mental health. Educate yourself on the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Have discussions with your teen about self-monitoring and about finding balance. Make sure your teen knows what mental health resources his school offers, and encourage him to seek help if he starts to feel overwhelmed or anxious.
Staying connected to siblings and parents who are back home can be tricky. Have some conversations about expectations beforehand, and do not plan to be your teen’s alarm clock or calendar planner now that he is on his own. Clarify what mode(s) of communication you prefer or even expect:
Don’t be afraid to revisit these discussions from time to time depending on their effectiveness or feasibility once they are put into practice.
Caution: Phone calls when away from home can involve your teen venting and essentially dumping some of his large problems onto you. Often you are the safest and most trusted person with whom he can share his worries. If this is the case, do not panic or hop on a plane to “rescue” your teen when you receive one of these calls. Listen, empathize, and ask if he wants you to help problem-solve or if he just wants to unload.
Share your thoughts and concerns on alcohol and drug use, sex and other sensitive topics with your teen before he leaves home. While these conversations can be uncomfortable or embarrassing, it is important to find the right time to have them.
Be sure to listen to your teen’s perspective on each topic as opposed to setting up rules that might very well be broken.
This may be the first time your teen has shared a room, or it might be her roommate’s first time sharing a room. Do some role playing with your child before she leaves so that she can be prepared for boundary setting and self-advocating with her new roommate(s).
Be sure to discuss her views on sharing items (e.g., food, clothes, a fridge) but also help her to think about how to be considerate of differences in culture, sleep habits, room visitors (romantic or social), and many other concerns that may arise. Check out Harlan Cohen’s The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College to prepare your teen for some comical situations that she might encounter.
For some teens, newfound freedom might mean more time socializing and less time on academic work. While of course it is only natural for your teen to become acclimated to his new environment, which includes meeting new friends and soaking up a new culture, a balance must be struck between social life and academic life. Have frank discussions with your teen to help him think through concrete ways to seek out that balance and adopt some structure to his schedule. With freedom also comes responsibility, so take some time to reiterate the expectation that your student always puts his best effort into his school work.
If your family chooses to employ an accountability system for grades, clearly outline what that will look like. You might also write out your specific academic expectations and review them with your teen, explaining that you will revisit those expectations periodically. Consider sending a copy of The Everything Guide to Study Skills (one of Cindy Muchnick’s books!) along with your student to help him learn better time management, test taking strategies, study skills, and more.
While there are critical considerations and valuable lessons to discuss, and there is certainly much to practice, you are embarking on one of the most thrilling adventures imaginable: watching your teen navigate the world around him using the tools you have lovingly imparted upon him for his entire life. Go ahead and cheerlead, encourage, listen, even cry. We know it will be bittersweet, but you can be confident in a job well done. And savor that goodbye hug; you’ll remember it forever.
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