Off to College: 8 Important Talks to Have with Your Teen

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: Off to College: 8 Important Talks to Have with Your Teen

When my daughter ventured off to college, there was so much I wanted to tell her. I desperately wanted to prepare her the best I could, help her avoid (at least a few of the) mistakes I made in college, and help her steer clear of some of the typical pitfalls that seem all too common among college freshmen.

After a few long lectures (that bored her to tears) and trying to share some of my own college tales (that also bored her to tears), I realized I might have to scale back on my college-bound lectures if I had any hope of her actually listening to what I had to say.

After giving it some serious thought, I realized the talks I really needed to have with my daughter boiled down to just a few. Here are 8 important talks to have with your teen. 

Off to College: 8 Important Talks to Have with Your Teen



#1 The Transition Isn’t Always Easy

For months, your teen has been hearing everyone talk about how college is a total blast and that they’re going to make lifelong friends and amazing memories while they’re there. But ask any seasoned college student and they’ll tell you. The transition into college isn’t always smooth. In fact, for some kids, it’s downright excruciating.

Everything from making new friends, learning the ropes on campus, figuring out how to balance their social life with studying, and fending for themselves is filled with what seems like never-ending learning curves.

Prepare your child for the immense change they’re about to face. The more prepared they are, the more likely they are to feel normal if and when they feel overwhelmed during the first several months. That “amazing” college experience will likely happen. However, it may not happen right away. 

#2 Don’t Lose Sight of Why You’re There

No one telling them what to do, where to be, how to act – the sheer unbridled freedom can be exhilarating. For the first time in their life, your child is calling the shots. The problem is, on the heels of all that newfound freedom lies a ton of responsibility your child may not be prepared for.

It’s easy enough to blow off studying for a big test to hang with friends on a Friday night. It’s even easier to stay in their cozy bed and skip an early morning class because they stayed out a little too late the night before.

But this is one of the more important conversations you need to have with your teen before they leave for college. Make sure they remind themselves often why they’re there – to get a quality education.

#3 Stress Can Take Its Toll – Protect Your Mental Health

College can be stressful – far more stressful than high school. The sheer cost of college attendance and the fear of failing and having to drop out weighs heavy on the minds of a lot of college students. Add on the fact that college freshmen are often predisposed to stress due to the massive transition into college, and it’s easy to see why extreme stress, anxiety, insomnia and even depression can creep up on even the steadiest teen.

Talk with your teen about the importance of adopting healthy coping mechanisms to manage their stress, practicing self-care, and asking for help if they feel they can’t manage their anxiety, stress or feelings of depression on their own. There’s no shame in seeking help.

Most importantly, talk with them about keeping things in perspective. It’s okay to take your studies seriously, but every college freshman needs to learn to cut themselves a little slack and not take themselves too seriously. 

#4 Beer & Chips Aren’t Part of the Five Main Food Groups

Not every college freshman will drink alcohol or eat unhealthily, but a lot of college kids do. Without mom or dad breathing down their neck about eating right or taking care of themselves, some kids tend to go a tad crazy throwing caution to the wind when it comes to partying too hard, eating mounds of junk food and not taking good care of themselves.

Make sure your child knows that skipping breakfast, eating cold pizza for lunch and beer and chips for dinner, and getting four hours of sleep a night is a routine they might be able to get away with for a while, but at some point, it’s all going to catch up with them.

The sooner they learn how to stay healthy in college by eating well, drinking moderately (or not at all), getting enough sleep, exercising, and taking their vitamins, (college freshmen are germ magnets – when one gets sick, they all get sick), the better off they’ll be in the long run. (It’s also a good idea to cover a few tips about what to do when they get sick – which meds to take, which meds not to take together, etc.)

#5 Sex, Safety and Consent

As parents, we have to come to terms with the fact that we can’t control every decision our teens make. We also have to come to terms with the fact that they’re growing up, that while in college they’ll be away from our parental supervision and there’s a chance they’ll make the decision to have sex.

Rather than turning a blind eye to the possibility, we need to prepare, educate and enlighten our teens.

According to the CDC, half of all teenagers have had sex by the time they’re 18 years of age. Even if you’ve had previous conversations with your child about the importance of practicing safe sex to avoid unintended outcomes such as pregnancy, HIV or STD’s and the critical importance of consent, now is a good time for a solid refresher.

Facts You Should Know:

  • The CDC recently reported a sharp rise in STDs with more than 1.5 million new cases of chlamydia, about 395,000 new cases of gonorrhea and nearly 24,000 cases of syphilis.
  • Not everyone is having sex in college. A New York Magazine poll found that upwards of 40% of kids on college campuses are still virgins. (Yet, most of them thought everyone else was having tons of sex.)

For more information about consent read: Teens and Sexual Consent: 8 Steadfast Rules They Need to Know

#6 Your Friends Become Your Family – Choose Wisely

From the moment your teen walks on campus, there will be an underlying pressure to be social, to make tons of friends, and to find their tribe. But it’s important they choose their friends wisely because when you’re in college, your friends essentially become your family. From eating and studying together to hanging out and weekend trips – quite often, friends in college do everything together.

Chat with your teen about finding the right group of friends – kids they can relate to and who are like-minded. Even if it takes a while or they have to make a shift to connect with a different friend group, it’s worth it to find the right friends who will help them make those lifetime memories they’re longing for.

#7 Play It Safe On AND Off-Campus

It’s our biggest worry… our kids will feel a false sense of security on campus (or off). Even though most colleges and universities go to great lengths to ensure the safety of their students, plenty of danger still lurks for students who are unaware.

Teach your soon-to-be freshman the importance of familiarizing themselves with the campus security system, including the locations of the emergency phone stations, safety apps, and the late-night college transportation system. Also, encourage them to follow the buddy system when venturing off-campus or when they go to parties/gatherings. Lastly, talk about why they should always listen to their intuition. If they genuinely feel in their heart that something isn’t right, it usually isn’t.

#8 Stay True to Yourself

College is all about putting yourself out there, meeting new people, having new experiences, exposing yourself to fresh perspectives, and evolving as a person. However, in the midst of all that newness and change, it can be easy to lose sight of who you are – your values, your morals, your beliefs.

Of all the important talks to have with your teen before they leave for college, this might top the list. Remind your teen – stay true to yourself. Don’t allow yourself to get sucked into a belief system that compromises who you are as a person. Sure, it’s always a good thing to keep your mind and heart open to fresh ideas, perspectives and opinions, but not at the risk of losing what you inherently stand for.

If you enjoyed “Off to College: 8 Important Talks to Have with Your Teen,” here are a few other posts you might enjoy reading:

Life Skills for Teens: 21 Things They Need to Know Before They Fly the Coop

College Move-In Day: 21 Tips to Make it Stress-Free and Fun

 The BEST College Dorm Checklist FREE Printable!

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