College freshmen are essentially high school seniors without their parents there to guide them.
Many families are now in the midst of preparing their college-bound students to go away to school, and for a lot of families this will be the first time their children are leaving home for more than a night or two.
Preparation is important not only for the typical tools and personal items that college students require for studying and living, but also for the health-related planning that should be done. It is vital to prepare your high school student for life away from home, for while it can be a very positive, it can also be stressful for both students and their parents.
Some topics for parents to focus on with their children are the basics of how to make appropriate choices after they leave the supervision and comforts of home. Lifestyle issues should be front and center. For instance, reminding young adults about the importance of getting enough sleep, the dangers of substance abuse and even that they may be scared or depressed until they become used to their new routines are just some of the subjects that parents should discuss before their teens leave.
Other matters to kick around are how they can make the best choices about new friends and how to go about setting boundaries in these new relationships. Believe it or not, the more these topics are discussed, the easier the conversation will become over time.
This may also be the first time that teens will be able to make their own food choices over a long stretch. Since there probably will be an overwhelming number of options, it is worthwhile for parents to recommend plans to help their students navigate. Along with the desserts and snacks in their college cafeteria, a simple reminder to include fruits, vegetables and other healthy selections is crucial.
With some thought about each of the topics mentioned here, freshmen will have an easier time making decisions at college.
Additionally, parents should also keep a running dialogue going throughout the school year and talk about what is right and what could be improved upon.
The same issues should be addressed by the young person’s primary-care physician, along with a complete pre-college physical.
By the time they are ready for college, most teens will be up to date on vaccines and booster shots, but talk with your children’s doctor about the late adolescent vaccines, including a tetanus booster, three human papilloma vaccine shots and two meningococcal (meningitis) vaccines.
Finally, technology can be a great way for parents and their college kids to stay in touch. It can enable an open line of communication while it is also gives students a chance to spread their wings.
One of the best ways for parents to respect the new independence of their college children is to prepare them for what lies ahead and to be open to their questions during their time away from home. After all, no matter how grown up they are, they are still your children.
Dr. Oscar Taube is medical director for pediatric outpatient services and coordinator for adolescent medicine at the Herman & Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai.