School is out for the summer, but some parents are getting ready to take their children to college. For those parents who have never experienced that before this transition could be very hard to swallow. While their child is considered an adult there are many questions that arise. How do you start that dialogue with your kids?
Barb Dehn might be able to help you. Dehn is a practicing Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner, award winning author, and a nationally recognized health expert. She holds a BS from Boston College and earned her Masters degree at the University of California, San Francisco.
She has appeared on CBS, ABC, CNN, Good Morning America Now and NBC’s iVillageLive. Plus she has been asked to give lectures on topics such as helping your children transition from high school to college. I had the opportunity to ask Barb what parents can do as their children go off to college.
Art Eddy: As kids look to make that transition from high school to college what is the biggest challenge they face?
Barb Dehn: Each kid has their own unique challenges, however the number one thing I see is that very few kids are used to solving their own problems without the help of trusted adults and parents. I think that while this is well meaning, this ultimately handicaps kids and makes it more difficult for them.
AE: How can parents help with the transition?
BD: As a mom, I know that the impulse right now is to shower your kids with lots of love and to do their laundry, make their meals and nurture them before they head out into the big, bad world, however I think one of the most important things you can do is to start having higher expectations of them doing more and more for themselves, including getting a summer job.
AE: These days with social media being very present in our society one wrong choice can land someone on YouTube or Twitter. Their mistake is now for everyone to see. What is the best way for a parent to teach their child about this?
BD: I think that most kids don’t believe that this could really happen to them; it doesn’t seem quite real until they or someone they know experiences this. One of the best ways is to find some YouTube video that illustrates your point and then talk about your child’s impressions and ask lots of questions, such as, when you see this, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? If you were thinking of hiring someone for a job, would this video cause you to re-think this person as a candidate? What do you think this person is doing now?
AE: I really like that answer. How can a student and parent help when the child gets homesick?
BD: I advise my patients and their parents to anticipate homesickness because it’s perfectly normal and natural. It’s a good idea to talk about it before they go away, maybe even share your own stories of being homesick, how long it lasted and how you got over it. And if you weren’t homesick, why not? I think knowing that there’s nothing to be ashamed of and that they may feel a little sad is normal. The important thing is to be there to listen and to let them work it out.
AE: How key is having your child take some sort of self-defense class before going off to college?
BD: I think a self-defense class is probably the most important summer enrichment class most children will take. These classes are empowering and will give your child more confidence that they can bring with them to any situation. One of my patients said that after taking the class, she found that she was more aware of her surroundings and felt more empowered.
AE: When the topic of spring break comes up. What are some of the questions should be asking their child?
BD: Ah, spring break. The key is to ask a lot of questions and become an independent reporter who gets all the facts before weighing in with an opinion or decision. I’m all about college kids having fun and also about becoming responsible members of society. The first question is how are your child’s grades? I don’t recommend financing spring break if they don’t disclose their grades.
If a college kid is doing well and mom and/or dad are helping to finance the education and spring break, then there’s a lot of room for negotiation. For kids whose grades are putting them at risk of failing or losing scholarships, then rewarding them with a spring break seems counterproductive. Also, spring break is an ideal time for college kids to start working on finding a summer job.
AE: People who have went to college have experienced the “Freshmen 15.” What can a parent do to make sure their kids are eating healthy?
BD: This is such a great question because this is a very fine line to walk. You don’t want to hover or induce an eating disorder, but you do want to help them make healthy choices. One thing is to consider getting an in-room fridge. Another is to have your child go grocery shopping with you. Start reading labels together, show them healthy choices they can make at salad bars, when ordering out and when they can have ice cream at lunch and dinner. Also, consider getting them a pedometer and encouraging them to try to keep up with you as you get your 10-12,000 steps per day. You can make it a competition over a week.
AE: How can parents cover the topics of sex, drugs, and alcohol with their kid before they go off to college?
BD: I don’t recommend that parents wait to have “The Talk” It’s better to have an on-going dialogue throughout the summer and the year. For questions that pertain to risky behaviors, I recommend a script, ‘I was just reading that a lot kids from your school are doing, fill in the blank with your least favorite vice, and did you see a lot of that in high school, the dorms? At parties?
What do you do in those situations? And then try to continue the conversation without preaching or telling them what to do. The point is to try to figure out how your child makes decisions and handles risky situations. Validate and praise them when they are making good choices. When they aren’t making good choices, try to avoid being condescending and talk about what they wished they would have done and problem solve other options.