It was just another Friday in September 2004 when my Dad and sisters jumped in the rental SUV to drop me off at college for my freshman year. My high-school girlfriend and I had just broke up a day or so prior so I was not in the mood to talk and therefor slept most of the way to the University of Rhode Island. I don’t truly know what my Dad or Mom were feeling that day but I had done a satisfactory job of distracting myself from what this transition would look like.
We pulled up and unloaded the hundreds of dollars worth of Target product, obviously including an egg-crate mattress pad and a mini-fridge. Once my family pulled away, I was off, just like your kids right now. While your kids and myself may not of had the same experience, I am sure we share at least one similarity. Going “off” to college means a lot of things for a family, both parent and teenager.
“Off” to college for me meant, freedom to:
- Choose when to talk to my parents.
- Choose when to tell my parents about grades (or just the bad ones).
- Not tell me parents where I am at or where I am going.
- Make whatever decisions I wanted to (remember an 18 year old mind).
For some parents, dropping your child off at college is a time to go home, pop a bottle of bubbly, turn on some of Queen’s “We Are the Champions”, and give yourself a firm pat on the back for a job well done. For many other parents this time is a tough transition. Happy for the their children’s achievements and understanding that this is the “next big step”, but a little anxious about how they are going to make it social, emotionally, and academically.
The first semester at school was tough, not necessarily academically but balancing freedoms. My phone calls home to my parents dwindled to maybe 2-3 per month, grades we happily mediocre, I struggled making it consistently to morning classes, healthy eating no longer existed, anxiety was through the roof, and I hadn’t felt like a made any meaningful connections quite yet.
This doesn’t take into account any of the thoughts or feelings my parents were having during the same time period. Bottom-line, it is a challenging time of new freedom, personal change, uncertainty, and expectations. How a parent or child handles this is determined by many things, which makes the search for understanding and meaning a tough one.
If you are nervous about your kid’s transition into the college life, you may have good reason to be. Everything you have done as a parent to help your child develop skills such as decision making, self-control/regulation, and confidence is now on display and put to the test. An 18 year old’s brain hasn’t fully developed the area where decision making and impulse control exists, so in many cases this can lead to a parent’s wandering mind and a teenager’s search for instant gratification.