In just a few short weeks, droves of teenagers will leave home sweet home and transition into the next phase of their life, college. While the transition period is full of mixed emotions for students, it is often equally, if not more, challenging for parents. 

Colleges typically have an excellent freshman orientation program for families and cover every realm of what to expect during the first year. This helpful intention can leave parents feeling terribly uneasy, particularly from the personal/social and safety sessions.  Parties. Binge Drinking. Drugs. Sex. Academic failure. Getting along with roommates. Peer pressure. Sleep deprivation.  Homesickness. There’s more, right?  It’s overwhelming and easy to overlook all of the positive aspects of this major milestone. 

Statistics argue that your teenager may experiment during their college years.  Illegal or not, it happens. Teenagers are quite capable of doing everything you taught them not to do.  Below are a few straightforward tips to keep the lines of communication open and help ease the transition for both you and your teen. 


  • Talk to your teen about your concerns before he or she leaves for school. Create a safety plan together; no matter how many times eyes are rolled at you.
  • Listen without judgment and try not to freely lend your advice.  Especially if they are venting about a class, roommate, the cafeteria meals, etc.  If you are dying to tell your teen what to do, ask gently, “would you like my advice or do you just want me to listen?”  Respect their answer.
  • Don’t freak out if they confess that they did something illegal, against your family values, or downright stupid.  If they are safe, listen and calmly discuss what happened. Reserve the right to call them back if you need process time. Sometimes expressing disappointment in a calm manner gets the point across better than a colossal blowout. 
  • Know the telephone numbers of important campus staff.
  • Ask open-ended questions. For example, instead of asking, “How was your weekend?” say “Tell me about your weekend.”  This simple tactic makes it more difficult for your teen to respond with the often used retort, “fine.” 
  • Periodically send a care package, card, or hand written letter.
  • Encourage your teen to branch out and get involved in the countless activities their college has to offer.
  • Model healthy coping skills, particularly when you drop them off.  It’s important to hold yourself together until you get in the car.  Bonus points if you are off campus before you lose it. 
  • Find support if you need it. Trust me, you’re not alone. 


  • Unnecessarily or constantly text/call your teen
  • Needle your teen for information. 
  • Threaten your teen about making poor choices.  If you say something along the lines of, “if you drink or do drugs, you’re coming home and we are not paying for college,” they are less likely to call you if they are in a bind. 
  • Attempt to make them feel guilty for not visiting home more often, especially if their college is close.
  • Show up unannounced.  Ever. 
  • Be ignorant and think, "my child would never….” Chances are they will. If they don’t, they know someone who does.   
  • Put an overwhelming amount of pressure on them about grades.  Instead, communicate your interests about the classes they are taking and the subject content. 
  • Attempt to rescue your teen by calling professors or other campus professionals unless it’s absolutely necessary (meaning, their health or life is in danger.)  It’s important for your teen to make and learn from their mistakes.

This rite of passage only occurs once.  Take time to process what is about to happen and allow yourself, and your teen, to be proud of the bright future that lies ahead.

Julia V. Taylor
Dean, Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy
Raleigh, NC
Twitter @juliavtaylor

Learn more via our Parents, You're Not Done Yet brochure