Smoothing the Start of College for Your Child by Jacqueline Jones, MD

I couldn’t help myself. My shopping cart was almost filled as I wheeled around the California Walmart getting what I believed were essentials for my second child’s dorm room. A table light, comfy sheets, new pillows, a wastepaper basket (oh, and look at that great rug!)—item after item filled my cart. I knew I shouldn’t be doing this. I had learned so much from my first son as he transitioned to college. Trust that they will make the right decisions, give them space to grow and make their own mistakes, be there for them when they need you but don’t overstay your welcome. I knew all these things in my heart, but if his bed was uncomfortable or his feet were cold at night, he would appreciate my efforts then! As I wheeled my cart around the corner, my six-foot-tall son stood at the end of the aisle staring at me. “No, Mom. Just put it back. I don’t need any of it.” “But sweetie, your pillows are old and that comforter you brought is from middle school. This will be so much nicer,” I pleaded. “Nope. Mom, just put it back. I’ll be fine.”

I followed him to the checkout where I paid for the few items he had bought. Experience had taught me that arguing at this point was futile and I reluctantly followed him out to the car. When we arrived at his dorm room, my resourceful husband had accomplished the most important tasks of hooking up the TV and attaching the requisite wall hanging over his bed.  “Guess it’s time for you to go,” he smiled, and looked towards the door. “Are you sure you don’t want to join us for dinner? Anything to have a few more minutes with him before I relinquished him to adulthood. “No Mom. it’s time to leave. I’ll see you in October. You’re coming back for parents’ visiting day, remember?” “Yes, of course. Let me check to make sure your bed is made.” “No, Mom, it’s fine.” He walked forward and embraced me, my head landing just in the middle of his chest. I held on tight and gave him a hug that I hoped would last eight weeks until I saw him again.“Love you sweetie,” I murmured and stepped toward the door. As we drove slowly away I felt the warm California sun on my face and I let the tears I had been holding back all day finally fall.

I knew what I needed to do and I had done it. That didn’t make the pain of leaving him any easier, for that is what being a parent means. Loving your children to distraction, but letting them go when the time arrives and trusting that they will continue to grow and mature Preparing yourself and your child for college can feel like a daunting task. Withdrawn and  non-communicative your child is making that emotional transition to self-dependence and that can be a scary experience for you both. While they may legally be adults it is still our responsibility to assure their safety and bolster them for success at college.

Your preparations should start with a visit to your child’s physician to obtain a pre-college physical and discuss if additional immunizations are required. Even if your child is not sexually active, a discussion about safe sex practices will most likely occur between your child and their doctor. Many physicians will also discuss the issues surrounding alcohol consumption. If you are asked to leave the room do so without an argument. Allowing your child and their physician the chance to chat in private about things of concern to them both is vitally important. Have your child sign a medical release form at this visit allowing their pediatric to interact with the student health services, if needed. Have your child’s pediatrician discuss if there is the need to have a medical doctor or therapist in place at school to provide additional support for your child. This will depend upon your teen’s health issues and how much medical attention your pediatrician feels they will need.  There can be a situation where your child cannot prepare for admission on his own.  In severe cases, independent work will only harm their psychological state.  In that scenario, you might want to turn to the services of qualified specialists – tutors, courses or essay writing services.

As you and your child are completing the paperwork for college begin the discussion concerning your access to their grades, attendance and your ability to interact with the academic staff at their college.  If you claim your child as a dependent, you have the legal right to review your child’s records no matter what age their age. If your child is not claimed on your taxes as a dependent and they are over 18 years of age they must sign a FERPA ( Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act)  form giving you access to their educational records as well as allowing school officials to speak to you. My experience has shown me that having a FERPA form in place, no matter what your child’s status is, will make your interaction with their college easier.

A Power of Attorney form is also an essential document to have signed the summer before college. This document allows you to act as your adult child’s representative in the unlikely situation they become incapacitated. While this is a terrifying thought you want to assure that you may act in your child’s best interest if an accident or serious illness occurs. Both the FERPA form and Power of Attorney form can be found on line.  When you arrive on campus, find the nearest pharmacy and have your child register their personal and insurance information and leave a credit card on file. This assures that if medication is needed on a night or weekend when student health may be closed that your pediatrician can adequately care for your child.

Prior to leaving campus, establish a schedule for weekly calls with your teen. This can be texts, phone calls or in the best- case scenario Facetime or Skype. You want to see their face and hear their voice to assure they are dealing with the stresses of this new phase in their life in a healthy and appropriate fashion. The transition towards independence can be a harrowing one for both you and your child. Taking the time to communicate openly and honestly with your young adult is essential during the critical months surrounding the start of college.  There is no magic switch that we as parents can flick on to allowing us to accept that the child we have nurtured, protected, and guided is now a self-sufficient adult. Having a safety net in place will allow you, as their parent, to feel more comfortable helping them on their path towards adulthood.

About the Author: As the mother of two grown children Dr. Jacqueline Jones has navigated the medical system with her own children. Her expertise as a physician and surgeon with over 25 years experience make her uniquely qualified to give parents meaningful advice. Dr. Jones trained as a physician at Cornell Medical College as well as completing her surgical training at University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Medical School. She is listed as one of America’s Top doctors and is an Associate Professor at Weill Cornell Medical College. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and American College of Surgeons. Visit



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