How to Team Up with Your Teen in College

The first five weeks are critical to your child’s campus success. Here is an action plan to get him through it all.
The Experts | posted by Christina Fabrey, BCC, ACAC

Most importantly, empower your teen to take control of the challenges he faces in college.

— Christina Fabrey, BCC, ACAC

Your teen’s bags are packed, and the minivan is filled with school supplies, dorm essentials, and the trusty mini-fridge. You and your teen are excited. Early September is when our teens head off to college. But as exciting as the first several weeks of college are, this is also a period of big adjustment. If your new college student is homesick, anxious, or frightened, use some simple conversation starters that will lead to supportive strategies and solutions.

Within the first five weeks of the college transition, a student will probably run into the following challenges:

> Adjusting to new responsibilities, new relationships, and new freedoms.

> Not fitting in with roommates, not feeling as smart as other students, and having trouble navigating unfamiliar surroundings.

> Not knowing what to expect academically as he starts classes.

> Working to establish a new schedule and managing his time.

Students may not be likely to be open about the stress, confusion, excitement, fear, or anxiety they face as they try to make the transitions. You can positively affect your teen’s behavior by asking him four easy questions to help your teen evaluate his first-semester transition:

1. Have you been involved in any campus activities?

If your child is not involved, brainstorm possibilities with her. She might choose to join a campus club, participate in an exercise program, enroll in sports, or find a campus job. Getting involved helps your teen become familiar with the campus setting as well as introducing him to new friends with similar interests.

2. Are you keeping track of assignments and managing your time?

If your teen struggles with these executive function challenges, ask her if she would be willing to get some help? Discuss using on-campus academic support services, such as working with a disability support professional or a tutor. Have your teen explore campus skills workshops. Hiring a professional ADHD coach can provide more individualized and consistent support for ADHD teens.

3. Are you getting enough sleep and eating right?

Discuss with your teen the basics of setting up a schedule, creating a bedtime routine, keeping healthy snacks in his room, making meals convenient, and negotiating sleep and nutrition patterns with roommates. Remember that managing nutrition and sleep habits is essential to staying physically healthy as well as sustaining focus and academic performance.

4. What upcoming events are you excited to attend?

If your teen isn’t excited about anything, encourage her to research possibilities through the campus calendar. After she has a chance to review the calendar, ask her: “What activities seem interesting?” Getting involved on campus increases the chances of making friends and establishing relationships.

Don’t overreact to those first frantic phone calls or conversations. Let your teen talk about challenges and work with him to determine how to address his needs. Whether you brainstorm ways for him to get involved on campus, or discuss having him work with an academic coach or tutor, let your child know that his feelings are normal as he adjusts to a new environment.

Most importantly, empower your teen to take control of the challenges. Remind him that he faced challenges in high school and that he developed successful strategies to help meet them.

Christina Fabrey, BCC, ACAC , is the director of advising and achievement at Green Mountain College, an environmental liberal arts college in western Vermont. She is a certified life and AD/HD coach, an Edge Foundation Coach, and an ADHD coach/trainer. In addition, she provides private ADHD coaching services

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