College is Scary: How to help your child address their fears and expectations for this next stage

Spring is a time of new beginnings and the hope that comes with it. For parents of high school seniors, it will also bring the realization that their children are entering the next phase of their life, which means college for many of them. Simultaneously exciting and scary, this stage in both parent and child’s life can induce anxiety. Discussing those fears and expectations now can help to prepare everyone for college in the Fall.

Rational Fears

Of course, it’s completely normal to experience fear and anxiety prior to attending college. The decision to attend college involves the investment of a lot of time and even more money. While there are ways to manage both, this can weigh heavily on the mind.

On top of this, attending college means a more challenging academic workload that students are unsure they are prepared for. Add a new environment with new professors and new classmates, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Experts believe that a good way to overcome fears is to talk about them. You can help ease your child’s anxiety by having frequent and open discussions about their fears while validating them and working together to address them.

Managing Expectations

A lot of anxiety can come from not knowing what to expect in college. It can also come from unrealistic or high expectations parents have for their children AND teens have for themselves. As students, they might also be uncertain about the expectations of their professors and coursework. Helping your child to manage these expectations while preparing for uncertainties is critical preparation for a successful and positive college experience. 

Pediatrician Justin Moll writes that parents can help their children prepare for college by:

  • Talking with them about the changes ahead
  • Encouraging productivity over procrastination
  • Instill truth in their mind before they depart: Encourage them to not find their true identity in their popularity or their academic success.

He also suggests that parents do a little homework themselves by taking time to learn about the college campus and classes they are taking.

Boston University also gives parents advice for managing their own expectations in their Parents’ Survival Guide. Among some of the suggestions are trusting your son or daughter to make good decisions and not thinking of yourself as the 24-7 problem solver for your child. Most importantly, they emphasize the importance of “managing the bumps in the road” because they are inevitable. 

This next adventure will be a challenge for both you and your child, who is soon-to-be and may already legally be an adult (whether you want to admit it or not), but starting the conversations now can set the foundation for a slightly smoother ride.

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