How to Walk the Line Between Support and Tough Love as your Child Enters His or Her First Year of College
This month’s guest blogger is Talia Rosen, a student at Barnard College and a good friend of Mountain Valley. As she prepares for her second year of college, Talia offers an interesting perspective on how parents can support their children as they begin their college experience.
It is not surprising that going to college for the first time is an incredibly stressful experience for many teens. As someone who recently completed their freshman year, I can attest to this. So many vital aspects of a teen’s life are changing or shifting during this time: where they live, with whom they “hang,” what they do with free time, and how they manage their responsibilities.
School guidance counselors and college admissions officers encourage students to get help if they are feeling anxious about the transition and provide helpful tips and tricks to manage the fear and uncertainty of this major change in one’s life. Unfortunately, not many people seem to consider the feelings of these teens’ parents.
I know that this process wasn’t much easier for my parents than it was for me. I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to be unsure or confused. I’m here to help you find the balance between support and tough love as your child enters his or her first year of college.
The first thing you should know as your child’s first year of college approaches is that it is okay for you to be scared. Perhaps more importantly, it is okay to let people know that you are scared. Change is unsettling, and transition can be scary. Watching your child leave home for the first time is difficult. These are completely natural emotions and, as you express how you are feeling, your child will begin to feel more comfortable speaking up about their own fears and feelings about going to college.
While trying to hide negative emotions from your child, you may be sending the message that it is not okay or normal to be feeling afraid of this next step. Open and honest communication allows both you and your child to know that these feelings are valid and that neither of you are in this alone.
My next piece of advice is to truly listen to your child. This is essential in remaining supportive, even while handing out some healthy doses of tough love. I will be the first to admit that teenagers are often complicated and difficult to understand. Sometimes, on the other hand, we say exactly what we mean.
If your child tells you that he or she must have their dorm room microwave completely set-up before you depart for home, it is important to take a minute to understand what your child is asking for and support their journey as best you can. Something as small as fixing a microwave can help your child feel more in control of this new situation and ease the transition immensely. This will be a year of challenges, growth, and lessons in independence for your child. As such, easing the transition into this new phase of life is not “enabling” or “coddling.” You are simply helping your child acquire all the tools they might need in order to face the twisting road ahead.
Now, in all honesty, I cannot claim to fully understand how it feels to watch your child go off to their first year of college. I am a 19-year-old student whose only experience with parenting is getting paid $15 to take care of my little sister when my parents couldn’t find a babysitter. On the other hand, I watched my own mother go through this process just a year ago, and we’ve each learned a lot from journeying over this rocky terrain together. The most important advice I can give to both you and your child is to work as a team. When things are going wrong or become overwhelming, remember that you two are in this together, and you can make it through this together.
I will leave you with one final message: it is okay if things don’t go according to plan. Going to college for the first time is not an easy or simple task, and sometimes things change or shift in the turbulence of this process. Hang on to each other and remember that you are both doing the best that you can. Keep in mind, sometimes the winding path is so much more fun than the straight one!