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Dear Cassy: From coop to college

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by Liz Schoeben

I have had the privilege of sending three sons off to college. It was an emotional and exciting experience. I have learned some things with each send off. I don’t have all the answers for a smooth transition but I will share a few things I think are useful to consider. It is helpful to have an open, honest, non judgmental conversation about these issues and any other topics you feel are important.

  1. Your teen should know his reaction to alcohol. If he has never tried a drink it might be worth having a night in to experience it in a safe environment with his parents. Talk about how he will deal with drinking in college. What are the risks and consequences of underage drinking? What is the school policy if he gets caught? And you might as well tackle the topic of other drugs which will be available on campus including marijuana and prescription pills.
  2. What will be the rules for medical disclosure? If they are 18 you will need them to sign a waiver that allows you access. This should be considered carefully. You can have access to partial or all medical information. You might want them to be able to go to the doctors for minor issues such as a sinus infection without your knowledge but may want to know more if they are ever hospitalized.
  3. Finances and allowances. Will they have a set amount each month? If they have a meal plan do they need additional money for food or other items? Help them budget before they go. I highly recommend getting a student credit card in their name only so they can start to establish credit. This usually has a lower limit.
  4. Communication expectations. How often do you want to communicate and by what means? Text, phone, Skype or Facetime? There are many more options than ever before. Establishing general expectations before they leave can prevent miscommunication later. You want to let them have independence but also know you are there if they need you. Try sending texts that don’t require any answer or action. Instead of” How are you?”  say “I love you and wish you a great day today.”
  5. Have the respectful love talk. This includes safe sex, contraception and also what it means to be respectful in a relationship. I talked about this in depth in a previous Dear CASSY article.

Whether it’s across town or thousands of miles away college drop off is an important milestone for both you and your child. I knew for me it would be a very emotional time. I started the process of slowly letting go at high school graduation. I allowed myself to be present at each event as they got closer to independence. I imagined their empty room and empty chair at the dinner table each night, I realized I would no longer be attending their games and would also lose being a part of that community. I was mourning the loss of this phase. But in order to do that I needed to be present and allow these emotions to come out. I cried at graduation and cried at at summer goodbye dinner. I now had an adult child. It is wonderful and scary. But it was an unknown for me just like each new phase throughout childhood had been. We tackled all of these together over the past 18 years- learning to walk, moving from a crib to a big boy bed, learning to ride a bike, learning to drive a car, attending the first school dance, and surviving the first heartbreak. All these things I shared with each son. And we both learned and grew along the way.  So I entered the college phase as I have always done – with fear, excitement and hope.

   Liz Schoeben is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. In 2017, she founded CASSY SoCal(www.cassysocal.org), which partners with the Palos Verdes Unified School District to provide students with comprehensive mental health services. 

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