Staying In Touch When Your Teen Goes to College

dad talking to teen
From the WebMD Archives

WebMD Feature from The Jed Foundation (JED).The JED Foundation 

You and your college-bound child will both benefit from setting a communication plan. Before they head off to school, discuss how, and with what frequency, you’ll talk going forward.

Set the Frequency

How often (daily, weekly, monthly, on an as-needed basis) do you expect to hear from your child? How much do they want to hear from you? It’s likely they’ll want to talk more often during the first few weeks of school. It’s a big adjustment, and there’s more of a chance they’ll be lonely.

Create a plan that fits everyone’s needs. You might prefer a phone call, but remember: Students today are part of a new, digitally connected generation. Email or text messages sometimes seem less intrusive. They free your child from the obligation of taking a call when it’s hard to speak freely. They can get back to you at their own pace, given how different their hours will be from yours.

On the other hand, talking in person and hearing their voice can give you clues to their well-being that a text or email can’t.

Set Rules and Limits

After you’ve sorted out how to communicate, set some basic guidelines:

  • What decisions, challenges, choices or difficulties do you expect your child to handle (at least at first) on their own?
  • On which decisions will they seek your input?
  • At what point and/or under what circumstances should they ask for help?
  • Under what circumstances would your child want a friend or roommate to call you or the counseling center?

How to Spot Changes

If you notice significant changes in your child’s personality, don’t discount them as mere growing pains. Feeling sad, lonely, overly excited or anxious is part of the natural transition. But it can also mean something’s wrong. It helps to know how and when to intervene and signs of emotional distress.

Make Calls Productive

Calls for help are inevitable. Take, for example, the story of the father whose daughter calls from 3,000 miles away when her car won’t start. When your child calls you for help, walk through the problem-solving process.

Let them explain the problem. Don’t interrupt.

Offer cues: “How can I help? What do you think you should do? What options are you considering?”

Help them work through the choices, but don’t make the choice if you can avoid it. If they still seem stuck, ask: "What do you imagine my advice would be?" Use supportive words like "I think you can handle this." At the same time, let them know that "No matter what, I’m here for you."

You’re Both Learning

Your child is experimenting with independent choices, but still needs to know you’ll be there to discuss ordinary events and difficult issues alike. Students don’t always know how much independence they can handle or how much support they’ll actually need. Be patient. Understand that it will take a while for everyone to find their footing in this evolving relationship dynamic. But over time you’ll design a new communication contract that works for your family.

Be Flexible

During your child’s first year in school, reconsider the arrangements. Think about whether they still work for you and your child. If not, discuss your concerns and adjust the plan.

Communication needs on both sides will likely change throughout your child’s college years. Keep an open mind about what’s right for them and you.

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WebMD Feature from The Jed Foundation Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on September 18, 2017
© 2018 The Jed Foundation, All Rights Reserved.