Girl Student Waving Goodbye to Parents

What Does it Mean to Send your Teenager to College?

Sending your son or daughter to college means, in most cases, a shocking change in family dynamic. Perhaps you’ll walk by your child’s room for weeks wondering where he or she is, whether assignments are really getting done in a timely fashion, whether he or she is staying healthy and balancing the nightly social life with the major reasons one attends college—to learn how to think on a higher level, understand empathically, and connect intellectually and professionally. Perhaps you’ll miss the reflex of knocking on your teen’s door and asking if he or she wants to go to a movie, take a run, or play some ball.

But…you will also be proud of your teen’s motivation and hard work, and pleased with his or her independence and sense of empowerment. The transition of a child going off to college affects different families in different ways.

So, what does it really mean to send your teenagers to college?

  1. It means that you’ll want to have one last talk with your teens about the difference between high school and college academic expectations. Explain to them that, in high school, they had H.W. that was due each day, and tests to study for that were compartmentalized into small units. Sometimes, teachers resorted to pop quizzes, just to get the students to read the material. It became like operant classroom conditioning. Students learned that if they didn’t do the assigned reading, they might receive a pop quiz with a subsequent bad grade. Hence, a reason for students to keep up with classroom material.The teacher knew the students’ names, their quirks, their talents and, most of the time, were understanding about their absences. In fact, students might have even been able to make up a midterm without it being an “international incident.”College expectations are a bit different.When your child is given a reading list in college, It’s meant as preparation for the next day’s lecture, and will not always be reviewed in class—a class of possibly 250 kids. That reading will, however, be necessary as a diving board for class discussion. If you don’t do the reading (which usually contains a healthy number of pages), you not only fall behind in the class, but you won’t be given a good participation grade for the day (there are smaller Sections in college, in which class participation is a meaningful portion of the grade). Explain to your teens that they will not be able to participate intelligently in class if they don’t do the reading. Freshmen can fall behind very quickly.
  2. It means reminding your teens that if they come from a high school which allowed retests, bonus projects, deadline extensions, or do-overs on papers, those days of lollipops and sunshine are over. It’s a rarity to find a fine university that will grant any of these accommodations. In fact, please explain that their professors will most likely not have a gaggle of grades to use for determining final grades in the course. Unlike high school, with its weekly tests, college may allow students one paper, one midterm and one final (along with a small participation grade) on which to base their entire semester’s grade. Typically, only language classes will have tests/quizzes every week or two weeks. Why is this important for your teens to hear? They need to understand that everything they do or don’t bother doing for a grade at college sticks!
  3. It means you should remind them that, although away from the security and unconditional love of home, they’re not alone. If they get stressed about academics and need help, there are tutorial centers on most campuses; professors have office hours; TAs respond to email questions; and students can form study groups and private class discussion forums. Help is there for them. All they need to do is ask for it.
  4. It means you might want to tell your teens, if they’re among the young movers and shakers who run their own organizations or speak at conferences, that now their energy, passion and intellect should be focused on college. Not that they have to stop being movers and shakers. On the contrary, the leadership and activity involvement they pursue at college will bring them many gifts that they could never receive elsewhere. They will learn how to be leaders among leaders.
  5. It means that if your teens are recruited athletes, you might want to explain that you expect them to keep up with the rigors of their academic work and not allow themselves to be swallowed up by team activities. It’s a big commitment that these talented athletes have to make when they accept a college scholarship. Their time is rarely their own. However, it’s important for them to remember why they are at college to begin with. They’ll need to adjust any competition dates or team activities to the realities of their academic schedules. They’ll need to hear from you that’s it’s okay to put education first.
  6. It means letting your teen-age children know that, although you will always be there for them they are now moving into an exciting, challenging, and independent future. That means you won’t be intervening on their behalf with faculty over a perceived unjust exam grade, or an unexplained or calculated absence. It’s not ethical or legal for college professors to be speaking with parents about student grades or outside conflicts. Your teens will now have to prepare assignments, keep track of syllabus projects and exams, schedule appointments with their academic advisors, attend club meetings and social gatherings of their choosing, and ask for help from their college house masters or RAs—all on their own. They can do it. Let them know you trust them.Of course, remind your teens to review their syllabi every few days, to post major assignments on their chalkboards or corkboards in their rooms, set calendar alarms for tests and scheduled naps, and leave enough time to read the entire novel—because skimming or using novel guides will not cut it for college. Remind them to get a decent amount of sleep each night during the week. This alone will help ensure a better quality of work. Let your teens know that they will be successful if they become their own best advocates. Then—let it happen:)
  7. It means having that difficult discussion with your teens about alcohol consumption on campus. Look, they’re rising freshman; they’re going to experiment and learn limits and let off steam, and that’s all understood. However, it’s important for your teens to appreciate: how deeply you feel about underage drinking; how deadly a night of overdone partying can be; how intoxication can lead to sexual misconduct; and how you don’t want to get a call at 3am on a Saturday morning to discover that your child’s stomach is being pumped at the university hospital. These are serious issues for every parent. Please, please make them serious issues for your children.
  8. It means requesting a copy of his or her class schedule so that you don’t, by accident, call or text during a lecture, lab, or section. Of course your teens will want to have a quick chat once or twice a week to let you know all the exciting things going on, but you wouldn’t want to distract them from their studies, interrupt their professors, or appear clingy. Your teens will be happy to share when you respect their time, their need to make new friends, and their great adventure.

BTW, be sure to place all school breaks on your calendar so that you don’t, accidentally, schedule a family vacation during your teen’s Finals week!

Hope this helps!

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