Commentary: Make sure your child is ready for the stressors of college
One of the most important things to remember about raising children is that you’re really raising adults.
As high school seniors decide where to attend college, parents are starting to realize that all their hovering and hand holding may have done their teens a disservice. Can your kid manage her time effectively? Do his own laundry? Balance a checkbook?
Young adults need the foundational skills that will enable them to leave the nest.
This is particularly true if the child has struggled with mental health issues. There is a misconception that college is going to be easier, that once the shackles of parental restrictions are lifted, all stress will dissipate. But in reality, independence breeds a whole new set of responsibilities and stressors.
Make sure your child is getting help before school starts and that he has a plan for continuing counseling at school. Depending on the severity of the problem, a university’s mental health service might not be enough. In that case, you’ll want to find an outside provider in the student’s new city. PsychologyToday.com has a useful “therapist finder” to identify qualified therapists by ZIP Code.
Whether or not a student has an underlying mental health issue, college can prove incredibly stressful. Too often I have seen parents bring a kid home after one semester because their young adult, who had never been held accountable for his behavior or had to manage his time, stalled out in the chaotic world of college.
To avoid this, begin to widen the your boundaries for your kids in the middle of high school. Slowly get them to take responsibility for getting up for school, finishing homework, doing laundry and scheduling their own appointments and getting to them on time. People learn so much more from their mistakes than their successes, and it is far better to make those mistakes early.
Backing off by parents also serves as a litmus test to see how ready the child is for real life.
Chronic substance abuse, ditching classes, academic underperformance and issues with authority are red flags that a child might not be ready to handle the responsibilities of college life.
Some parents elect not to send their seniors to a four-year university and instead let them “incubate” at a junior college before leaving home, because they’re just not ready.
Initially the high school senior will push back, but kids also know when they are not ready. Holding them back allows them to gain the skills they need to make it when they finally do leave.
Once the child has left, parents should check in but not too regularly. If you Skype or FaceTime once a week, you can get a good visual assessment without overwhelming the kid with calls and texts that don’t give her the room to grow.
Remember, the point of all those diaper changes and soccer games was to create a well-rounded, responsible citizen of the world. So while it can be difficult to let go of your baby, just think of how exciting it will be to get to know your new adult.
Dr. JERRY WEICHMAN is a clinical psychologist and adolescent specialist at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach.