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4 common mistakes to avoid when your teen goes off to college

Sending your teen off to college can rattle any parent. It seems like just yesterday (and, hey, maybe it was literally just yesterday) that they were strewing dirty laundry across their bedroom floor, filling the house with reverberations of their overly-loud music and dominating the dinnertime conversation with words like “cheugy” that you’re still not quite sure what mean. And now they’re gone, possibly not even coming back until the Thanksgiving holiday.

All that change can make a parent a little emotionally vulnerable, which can unfortunately lead to some bad parenting decisions, even if you don’t mean to make them. To best support your child as they spread their wings, and to help your teen’s college experience go as smoothly as possible, here are four of the most common mistakes parents make when their teens go off to college, and what to do instead. 

young woman talking on phone

Constantly checking in

No matter how much you and your teen talked when they were living at home, this is not the time to monopolize their attention. Even if you did frequently text while apart just a week ago, you want your child to have the space to make new friends, explore new hobbies and enjoy the many (safe) social events that most colleges provide for incoming freshmen. 

So, instead of checking in tonight, tomorrow morning, tomorrow at lunch, tomorrow when you get home from work and so on, let your child lead in terms of how much you talk and even how you talk (whether that be via text, phone, FaceTime, etcetera). When they get settled, you’ll likely fall into your old routine and frequency of connecting, but when they first go off to college, it’s not the right time to be constantly inserting yourself into their life. 

Sweeping all of their problems away 

When your child experiences their first minor college mishap — maybe it’s failing an assignment, ruining their laundry or throwing up on the campus quad because they drank too many wine coolers — avoid attempting to swoop in and save the day. If they’re telling you about these mishaps, it’s typically proof of a healthy parent-child relationship, so provide some guidance and maybe a little parental wisdom, or even an anecdote of a similar experience that you had in college, but don’t let your child come to the conclusion that they can dump every problem on Mom or Dad and expect you to make it go away.

Now’s the time for them to learn the ins and outs of their newfound independence and how to solve their own problems without parental help.

Criticizing their every decision 

Teens are just going to experiment a little when they go off to college. They’re testing their boundaries and independence. So, avoid giving your every thought on any of their decisions that you might not agree with, so long as they’re not making decisions that are legitimately harmful.

Maybe they dropped the business class you wanted them to take, and are instead taking Intro to Pottery. Maybe they come home on fall break with a piercing in their nose. Maybe they’re suddenly really into some niche interest that you’ve never heard of before. Whatever it is, even if it’s not your cup of tea, avoid being critical. Chances are, these experiments will fade away and your teen will be on to something new by the spring semester. 

Making them feel unwanted

For some parents, the idea of being empty nesters is somewhat exciting. While you love your child, you also love the idea of being able to come and go as you please, of being able to do whatever you want without worrying about your teenager needing you. But don’t show too much enthusiasm around your child and hold off on converting their bedroom into a home gym or theater. You don’t want to inadvertently make them feel unwanted or unloved.

The transition to college life isn’t easy — but it also isn’t the end of your relationship with your child 

Sending your teen off to college isn’t easy, for anyone in the family. Transitioning to college life comes with a lot of changes and emotional struggles for everyone, parent and child alike. Keeping the above four common mistakes in mind as you navigate your changing relationship with your child can help better prepare everyone for their evolving familial roles, while maintaining those loving relationships that you’ve worked so hard to cultivate over the challenging teen years. 

But! Before your teen heads off to college, make the most of the summer, with these fun activities to enjoy with your teen.

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