Transitioning from high school to post-secondary school can be a stressful and overwhelming time for teens and parents alike. You will likely be less involved in their academic and personal lives than ever before, especially if they’re attending school far away. Whether your child is staying close to home or moving across the country, pursuing post-secondary education is an opportunity for your children to foster their developing independence. This doesn’t mean that you won’t continue to worry about their well-being, ability to keep up with higher academic standards, new and unfamiliar living conditions, or social pressures that often present during this life stage. Here are some helpful tips for empowering and supporting your young adult through this exciting, yet sometimes scary, transition.
Have open and honest conversations
Chances are that your teen also harbours some fears about starting their new chapter even if they haven’t explicitly told you. Talk to them about what it was like for you to leave home for the first time – and the challenges you overcame – even if you didn’t attend post-secondary school yourself. This helps to foster empathy and encourage your teen to bring up their own concerns. Remind them that it’s completely normal to feel nervous and that their classmates are almost certainly feeling the same way. It may also be helpful to reflect on a past time when they felt nervous about a big transition, such as going from middle or elementary school to high school. Focus on how they overcame those fears and how far they’ve come. Having these types of conversations demonstrates to your child that they can still discuss their anxieties and fears with you. Your support during this time is particularly important as it may take some time for them to develop meaningful, close connections and friendships with their new peers at school.
Be familiar with campus resources and encourage your child to seek them out
Each campus has a dedicated network of resources designed to support students’ academic success and personal wellbeing, but unfortunately, not all students know to take advantage of them. These can range from on-campus counselling to academic support, such as free academic writing workshops or personal librarians available to help with research projects. Remind your child that although their professors won’t expect them to arrive fully-equipped or perfectly adjusted to university life, most won’t chase them down for missed assignments or for forgetting to write their name on an essay. Depending on the size of your child’s school, most professors won’t check-in with them individually if their grades start to slip. Take some time to familiarize yourself with your child’s school’s resources, so that you can encourage them to be resourceful in seeking out the support they need if and when they need it.
Give them space and allow them to make mistakes
This final note is an important one, but it can be the most difficult part for many parents – having significantly less oversight and control over your child’s life than you’re used to can tempt you to try to stay connected with your teen at all times. Modern-day technology like texting, FaceTime, and social media makes it easier than ever to “hover” despite being physically far away. Resist the urge to continually contact your child throughout the day, especially if you start to sense that they might appreciate some space. Most of all, trust that your child will reach out to you when they need to. Giving them space to make mistakes (and learn from them!) is necessary for their growth and sense of independence and autonomy. Regardless of how much you try to control your teen by texting, calling, or emailing – you can’t stop them from ever making mistakes. The reality is that giving them space to trip up a bit, but coaching them through conflict resolution if needed, is one of the best things you can do to prepare them to be a high-functioning, successful (in whatever way that means to them), and happy adult.
As with most new ventures in life, transitioning from secondary to to post-secondary school can have a bit of a learning curve. It is totally normal for your child to experience bumps along the way. Bombing a test or dealing with difficult roommates may not be pleasant experiences, but they are incredibly valuable ones. As difficult as it may be to step back, learning how to bounce back from these challenges is what ultimately helps teens transition into resilient and independent young adults. Telling your child that you trust them, that you are confident in their decision-making and abilities to “own” their mistakes, helps to build their self-confidence. Your confidence in them increases their own confidence in themselves, and will help them trust their gut instincts and make decisions that will keep them safe throughout their lives – and help you rest a little easier.