In the summer before college, feelings can range from excitement to sadness, and fear to nostalgia as your teen gets ready to leave you and their home. As Marjorie Savage, Education Specialist in Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota, says in her book, You’re On Your Own (But I’m Here If You Need Me), “Your child is midway between childhood and adulthood, and every step forward is made with the assumption that things are still solid at home and the fear that they are not.”
Your teens will likely be excited to start this new phase of their life. It is important to recognize that this time is not only momentous for your family, but huge for your teen as they begin to form their adult life and identity. If you focus all the attention on your sadness over them leaving home, or the challenge of college academics, you miss an opportunity to acknowledge your teen’s real feelings of joy. And you may miss the opportunity to see your child begin to turn into a young adult. Acknowledge their excitement, and be excited with them. This will be an invaluable time to spend looking forward to the future together.
Beyond excitement lies fear, which your teen is no doubt feeling in some capacity as they get ready to leave for school. They fear the unknown, a completely new world in which they are about to enter. It’s important to recognize that all family members will be feeling something, and to not shy away from the real issues that may come up. Savage explains that young adults will most likely be scared, but will not usually express these concerns about upcoming changes. Instead, expect some anger or aloofness as your teen processes their conflicting feelings. Dr. Shari Sevier, licensed school counselor and mom, recalls her son flexing his “I’m independent” muscle the summer before he left for college. She says she later realized it was his way of hiding his anxiety and fear of the future. Education consultant Jennifer Miller says a lot of conflict can crop up between parents and teens at this time that is evidence of separation anxiety. “Anticipating the pain of that transition and coping with that fear can lead teens to push their parents away both physically (by not spending time with them) and emotionally (by getting into more conflicts and disagreements),” Miller says. Reassure your teen that you will always be there for them, even if they don’t seem to want to hear it. Miller suggests planning a specific date when they will first come home to visit, that way your teen realizes that they are not leaving for good.
On the flip side, just when you think you are showing excitement and encouragement for your young adult departing for college, they might start to get the feeling that everyone is a “little too happy that I’m leaving,” Savage says. Be wary that many emotions will likely appear during this summer. Use this time to tell your young adult how much you love them, how proud of them you are, and how much you believe in them to succeed in the world.