How to Help Your Teen Transition to College

Your teen’s transition from high school to college can be both scary and exciting. This time can feel even more stressful if your adolescent is moving away from home or out of state. You want to be there for them as well as support their independence. Read on to learn how to help your teen, and yourself, with the transition to college.

Preparing for the Big Move

The last few months of high school include many small goodbyes; prom, finals week, senior send offs and traditions, and of course, graduation itself. These goodbyes are often hard for many students, as important moments in their lives are ending without the addition of anything new. Your teen will have to wrestle with saying goodbye to friends, deciding what to pack and what to leave at home, and moving out of the family home. These major changes can lead to a lot of emotions for both you and your adolescent.

How can you help? 

  1. Ask your teen what they’ll miss from high school.
  2. Who are they worried about saying goodbye to?
  3. What are their fears about the transition from high school to college?
  4. Are there important skills your teen needs to learn before they move away? Use the summer to teach them how to cook a few meals, do their own laundry, set a budget, or any other skills you think we’ll help make their transition easier.
  5. Spend some time on self-reflection. Is there anything you need to change before your teen moves to college to better support them?

Take the opportunity to share what you’ll miss about them moving away. Help your adolescent sit with their sadness and acknowledge both of your losses.

Moving In and Starting Anew

The next stage of the transition process is dropping your adolescent off at their new college campus. These first months of college are a major time of change for your teen as they choose classes, decide what clubs to join, make new friends, and determine their young adult identity as a college student. Your teen may also be struggling with homesickness, lack of familiar routine and support, and new academic challenges that come with being a college student You may also be struggling with your teen’s transition and the disruption to your routine as you no longer see them daily, attend their sporting events, or see their school performances.

How can you help?

  1. Establish a new routine. How often will the two of you check in? How will you check in (text, facetime, etc.)? Especially in the first semester, work on letting your teen dictate how often you talk, while also establishing a minimum frequency of communication.
  2. Flexibly commit to your new routine. In a time of change, a regular check in can be comforting to your teen. At the same time, work on your own flexibility. Your adolescent’s schedule may change often in the first few months, especially as they make new friends and invest in their social life on campus. Work around their schedule when you can to show your support of their independence.
  3. Balance supporting your teen’s homesickness with encouraging them to try new things. Validate their sadness and let them know you miss them too! Remind them of the next time you’ll see them and let them know homesickness is a normal part of the transition to college. Share your college stories of homesickness. If they’re struggling to find new activities, make new friends, or to manage their academic course load, spend some time generating ideas together. Remind them that they’re not alone!
  4. Ask them what they’re liking most so far. Get invested and spend time learning about their classes, teachers, roommates, activities, etc. Ask open-ended questions where you can.
  5. Manage your expectations. College brings new stressors and harder classes for students. Manage your expectations about your adolescent’s grades and help them reduce any pressure they’re putting on themselves.
  6. Check in on how they’re coping with their stress. Do they have a solid support system? Are they practicing self-advocacy and reaching out for help when they need it? Are they utilizing the resources available to students on campus?

Finding a New Normal

As your teen begins to adjust to living on campus, new challenges will appear. Your teen might struggle with a class, clash with their roommate, or have difficulty balancing school with extracurricular activities. As your college student faces these new challenges, work on supporting their resilience and problem solving skills as opposed to solving their problems for them.

How can you help?

  1. Expect failure and help your teen bounce back. Normalize failure, share your own stories of failing in college, remind your adolescent of times in the past where they’ve failed and gotten back on track, and provide encouragement.
  2. Listen before offering advice. When your adolescent comes to you with a new problem, listen before jumping in with a solution. Ask them what they’ve tried or what their ideas are for solving the problem before you give your suggestions.
  3. Help them feel empowered. Helping your teen develop their own coping skills will give them the confidence to tackle whatever college throws at them. Time management skills, organization and cleanliness, communication skills, and self-care are important tools for your teen’s coping tool kit you can help them develop.

Have patience and be kind to both yourself and your teen. Change is hard and can heighten emotions. Apologize when frustration gets in the way and remind yourself you’re both doing the best you can!

Managing Increased Stress

If you or your teen are struggling to manage their moods or behaviors during this college transition, know that you are not alone and there is help available for you. 

The fastest way to find relief is to connect to a licensed professional who specializes in evidence-based care, like the clinicians at Joon. If you’d like to explore therapy options and see how Joon can support you and your teen, you can help them get matched with a therapist or email us at hello@joon.com.

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August 15, 2023
Lauren Hammond, PhD | Clinical Content Manager

Lauren Hammond, PhD | Clinical Content Manager

Lauren Hammond, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist who received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Seattle Pacific University. Dr. Hammond provides services to adolescents and adults using evidence-based treatments from a cognitive-behavioral framework, including Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Prolonged Exposure. Dr. Hammond has specialized training in treating mood and anxiety disorder, trauma and PTSD, personality disorders, and self-harm and suicidality.

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