In addition to being great medical doctors and treating the physical needs of your kids, some of our PAR providers are also parents with practical tips for navigating college prep and sendoff. In a recent interview, Drs. Conley, McAtee and Weber offered their shared perspectives and experiences with everything from the application process and college checklists, to the send off and transition to a quieter house.
Whether you are preparing to drop your child at college this month or that milestone is in your future, there are key takeaways for everyone in this latest piece. Enjoy!
1 – HAVE THE BIG CONVERSATIONS
Make time for the important conversations. Even as early as the application process, start discussing a budget and what to expect in terms of finances. From student loans to room and board, financial literacy is helpful. Dr. Weber suggests (to the extent it’s possible) to get a credit card in your child’s name because it can become important down the road when they need a credit score.
In addition to finances, cover topics like health, safety and staying active. Dr. McAtee reminds both her kids and her patients that at college it is entirely possible to eat pizza and fries at every meal. But you also can’t do that without consequences — kids should know what balanced meals look like and have a plan to stay active.
And, although general safety talks begin before college, all three doctors stress the importance of talking about alcohol, drugs and campus safety. Reminders like —never go to a party alone, make a plan to go with a group and leave with that group, no one is waiting up for you to get home — can never be shared too often.
2 – REVIEW THE BASICS
Dr. Conley notes how valuable knowing basic life skills are for kids going off to school. Even something as simple as making a meal or doing a load of laundry — basic skills will help with self confidence. It’s also important to review items in your medicine box and/or any allergies. As parents, we’ve handled the dosages for so long, kids might not know when to use Pepto or how much Tylenol to take.
3 – TEACH THEM TO BE THEIR OWN ADVOCATE
You’ve taught your kid little by little to be independent people. Now that they are on their own, they will need to voice their needs and use the resources around them. Dr. McAtee says one of the biggest surprises for her when her son started college was that she doesn’t see any grades! It was a big change to not get emails or feedback from teachers. Your kids are now in charge and you can encourage them to feel comfortable using the resources around them. Whether that’s going to a professor, student health or career services – there are professionals surrounding them. Advise them to ask for help if they don’t know something.
4 – UNDERSTAND LETTING GO
There is no exact art to letting go, there is no one way — it’s important just to understand what letting go means for your family. It could be turning off Life360 or accepting that you might not see them on their birthday for the first time. Dr. McAtee points out that, “Some parents might notice a slight pulling away from kids the summer before college, and that’s completely normal. Natural independence is a normal part of the process.”
Dr. Conley says, “Enjoy the fact they are growing up into incredible adults. Appreciate the new conversations. It can be amazing and rewarding. Yes, the first time they are not home for a holiday or little things like that are hard, but you adjust and they adjust.”
5 – EXPECT PARTS TO BE STRESSFUL
The application process and decision-making process can be very overwhelming for kids. Some experience fear over which school to pick, and that a wrong decision could make or break their life. These pediatricians agreed that it’s important for families to remember the mindset of a teen. To them, it feels like the end-all-be-all but just know your child and how to guide them through the process.
Also, to minimize last-minute stress, allow ample time for your kids to complete their applications. There’s a learning curve and limitations with the Common App. There are resources available to help with proofing essays if that becomes a point of contention in your household. Whether it’s juggling logistics of moving out-of-state or waiting for an acceptance notification, you can anticipate stressful parts of the process.
6 – LET THEM SOLVE THEIR OWN PROBLEMS
As Dr. Weber states, “Expect that 3 AM phone call. There will be some crisis. Listen, help them come up with a plan but let it be their plan. Let them be in charge of the decision making.”
Dr. Conley also says it’s helpful to be a sounding board. When her son first went to college, she deliberated on how much and when to intervene. “It’s tough for parents to adjust because they haven’t done that before. And it might be trite because everyone says it but it’s true that you only learn by making mistakes.” She’s currently reading (and recommends) You and Your Adult Child: How to Grow Together in Challenging Times by Laurence Steinberg which focuses on the developing a good relationship with your adult children during these transitional years.
7 – EXPLORE THE OPTIONS
When your child is starting to think about colleges, know that there are helpful books that break out universities by location, campus life, application deadlines, early decision options and so on. Spreadsheets can come in handy!
According to our doctors, another good heads up is for parents to realize how competitive the application process is year after year. You will find out that applications go up every year, acceptance rates go down and it’s not a bad idea to have some back up options. And, if your child is stuck on a school but did not get accepted at first, don’t hesitate to explore non-traditional routes. That can mean community college, transferring or semesters abroad — there are always options to be explored.
8 – JOURNEYS ARE NOT THE SAME
On a similar note, getting into or choosing a college can look different for everyone. Maybe it’s being waitlisted, maybe it’s not a traditional four-year program. It’s key to know that there are multiple pathways and those bumps in the road will teach resilience. The important thing, as Dr. Conley shares, is to enjoy the journey. “When you walk on the campus and you feel like you belong, you are more likely to be successful and thrive.”
9 – DROP AND GO
And when that big day actually arrives, focus on the move in and don’t make a bunch of plans after unloading. As Dr. McAtee says, “Get out. And get your tears out before you get there!” They are anxious to get settled themselves and you want them to set up the room the way they want to set it up. Have your plan for when to talk and/or see each other next so you all have something to look forward to after the initial drop.
10 – EMBRACE THE CHANGE
A change in communication. A difference in household noise levels. Whatever the change may be, just know that there will be relationship changes – just like when they were tweens, and teens. It’s always an evolving process.
Dr. Weber says, “As parents, we can’t necessarily guide how that change happens but we can just manage it. This whole new chapter is an exciting time for the kids and we hope it’s exciting for parents.”
Regarding communicating with your kid in college, some might find it helpful to set up a weekly time to chat. And, don’t expect quick responses or be surprised if they text and just ask for dog pictures!
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading all of the great advice from these three doctors! In sum, give them the tools. Have the important conversations. Lean on your spouse or friends. And most importantly, know that your kids are ready for this next step.
Thanks again Drs. Conley, McAtee and Weber for sharing your personal experiences and extensive knowledge!