All Grown Up and Gone for Good?

Tips for Parents and Children on How to Handle the College Transition

Aug 1, 2013


Your high school graduate is off to college to embark on a newly independent life. But the child is not the only one making a transition: parents also face emotional and lifestyle adjustments. Experts from NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital offer tips for parents and children on dealing with the college transition, from whether to redecorate the child's room to how to handle college expenses.

"A parent's goal should be transitioning their college-bound child into greater independence and responsibility. If you're a so-called ‘helicopter parent' who micromanages your child's life, now's the time to land," says Dr. Karen Soren, director of adolescent medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital. "Even before your child goes away, give him or her more freedom, while your direct oversight is still possible."

It's normal to experience some sense of sadness or loss when a child goes away for college. Parents can cope with this feeling by spending more time with each other and with friends. It's common also for children to feel homesick even though they may have been excited to go away to college. When parents get that homesick call from their child, they should encourage them to get involved in campus activities. While a child should know that their parents will always be there to listen, it is important for them to make new friends and acclimate to this new environment.

"Interestingly, the concept of an empty nest for baby-boom generation parents is changing in light of the new ‘boomerang generation,' says Dr. Lisa Ipp, associate director of adolescent medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Phyllis and David Komansky Center for Children's Health." More and more, young adults are delaying independent living and coming home to live with their parents after college. This adds a whole new wrinkle to the concept of empty nesting, which now may be short-lived."

Dr. Soren and Dr. Ipp offer more tips on making the college transition easier:

    Keep in touch, but don't overdo it. When your child goes away to school, it may be an opportunity to develop a different kind of relationship. Recognize that their new independence is an important step.
    • The Sunday night phone call is no longer the norm. Intermittent cell phone calls, text messages and e-mails are now common.
    • Children appreciate a space of their own when they come home to visit. Try to keep your child's room intact for a while. Parents often redecorate and reclaim some space, but ask your child first. See if you can give them another space to call their own.
    • Educate yourself on the school's policies toward drinking and other rules. Talk to your child about their responsibilities and their safety. Problems like binge drinking start as early as the first weeks of school.
    • Talk to your child about money. Come to an understanding about who is paying for tuition, books, clothing, travel, phone, and other expenses. Discuss whether they will take a part-time job and whether they will obtain a credit card (credit card companies aggressively market to college students).
    • Read everything that the school sends you. Stay informed. And, if there's a parents' visiting day, go.
    • If a parent or child has prolonged difficulty adjusting, seek a professional evaluation.

    For more information, patients may call 866-NYP-NEWS.

    NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital

    NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, based in New York City, is one of the nation's largest and most comprehensive hospitals, with 2,589 beds. In 2012, the Hospital had nearly 2 million inpatient and outpatient visits, including 12,758 deliveries and 215,946 visits to its emergency departments. NewYork-Presbyterian's 6,144 affiliated physicians and 20,154 staff provide state-of-the-art inpatient, ambulatory and preventive care in all areas of medicine at six major centers: NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital, NewYork-Presbyterian/The Allen Hospital, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Westchester Division and NewYork-Presbyterian/Lower Manhattan Hospital. One of the most comprehensive health care institutions in the world, the Hospital is committed to excellence in patient care, research, education and community service. NewYork-Presbyterian is the #1 hospital in the New York metropolitan area and is consistently ranked among the best academic medical institutions in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report. The Hospital has academic affiliations with two of the nation's leading medical colleges: Weill Cornell Medical College and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

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