Even for the happiest, healthiest and most self-confident kids, living away from home for the first time can be a challenging transition. Whether your teen is joining the workforce, or heading to college, this newfound independence may come with added stress, a heavier workload and the responsibility of managing all the ins and outs of daily life without mom and dad close by to help.
It’s important for parents to help prepare teens for life as an adult, from their health and safety, to their finances and time management.
Make health a priority
Dr. Pilar Bradshaw encourages parents to get their teens up to date on immunizations, including the meningococcal B vaccine. Meningococcal disease can be deadly, and it’s easy for infections to spread in crowded dorms or in enclosed areas where students gather.
If your teen has a chronic disease, like diabetes or asthma, it’s critical that they know how to manage it on their own.
“They have to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of their disease and what can trigger them. They need to be familiar with their medicines and when they need to take them,” says Dr. Bradshaw. “Make sure your teen understands what the medical resources are in the community where he or she will be living and how to access them.”
Coping with emotional ups and downs
The first year of college is often the most overwhelming and emotional, so help your teen develop a plan for how to handle tough times.
“Ask them, ‘What are some ways that you will handle stressful days? Let’s make a list of some stress-coping techniques.’ When I ask kids about this in their checkups, interestingly, most kids have very few ideas,” Dr. Bradshaw says.
Be sure to talk with your teen about how to build a new support system. Colleges say it’s the No. 1 challenge students face outside the classroom. Encourage your son or daughter to get involved in healthy activities that make it possible for them to meet new people with similar interests.
Be sure to talk with your teen about safety, and encourage him or her to be aware of their surroundings at all times. If your child is attending a college or university, you and your student should take time before classes begin to become familiar with the campus’ safety resources and procedures.
As difficult as it may be, talk with your teen about the realities of sexual assault. The statistics are chilling: According to the United State Department of Justice, 1 in 4 female undergraduates will be victim to some form of sexual assault before graduation. Bestcolleges.com offers tips on sexual assault prevention and basic safety guidelines to share with your teen.
Take the time to discuss with your teen what a healthy relationship looks like.
“We live in a nation that focuses a lot on sex, but we don’t talk about healthy relationships and how to watch out for yourself. Talk about how to pick a partner who is going to take care of them, take care of their relationship and be good and respectful to them,” says Dr. Bradshaw.
Teaching a teen how to stick to a budget and use credit cards wisely or not use them at all is one of the biggest challenges parents face.
“Most teenagers I know can burn through $500 like it’s going out of style, but they need to understand that if they do that, they may have blown their grocery bill for an entire month and then some.”
To help teach your teen money smarts, the National Endowment for Financial Education offers a free resource, SmartAboutMoney.org, where you and your teen can access articles, calculators and tips on money management.
Keep the lines of communication open
Spend the summer after graduation talking with your teen about the next phase of their life, and be sure to listen to what they say.
“Ask questions like, ‘What are your concerns about moving out? What are the things we need to talk about? How can I help you feel more prepared to go?'” Dr. Bradshaw says. “Sometimes the questions they will ask will help lead the conversation, and you might be surprised by what your kids are worried about.”