When your daughter leaves for college, you’ll send her with all the essentials like those weird extra-long twin sheets and enough shampoo to wash her hair for a year. Here are five gifts you can give her to help make her college experience a healthy and successful stage of her life:
Expectations – One of the greatest gifts we can give our girls is high expectations. Academic work in college is likely to be more challenging than high school classes, so let your daughter know that you think she is capable and well-prepared. And that college is set up to support her success. There are people like her TAs and her professors to help her when feeling stuck or confused, and most colleges offer free tutoring in math and writing. College courses can be exciting and challenging ventures into new ways of thinking. Girls thrive when we expect them to do well.
Freedom – Let her know that when opportunities for romance and physical intimacy come up, she has the freedom to say yes, no, or maybe later. When it comes to sexual activity, she doesn’t owe anyone anything. Her own happiness and pleasure should be her guide. Be sure to express your values about sexual relationships. Studies show that teenagers want more rather than less conversations with their parents on topics like this. If you haven’t talked about this yet, that long car ride to college is the perfect opportunity.
Information – Sixty percent of college students are sexually active, so sex may be part of her college education. If your daughter is heterosexual, make sure she knows what kinds of birth control there are, how reliable they are, how to access them, and how to use her health insurance to pay for it. Teenagers who are educated about birth control are more likely to use it. Many parents are concerned that telling teenagers about birth control methods means they will be more likely to have sex. You can rest assured—that is definitely not the case. There are many studies that show that educating teenagers about birth control doesn’t make them more likely to be sexually active. What it does do is make them more likely to use birth control when and if they do become sexually active.
Coping Strategies – Most freshman experience some kind of loneliness and homesickness their first year. They can join all the clubs and meet lots of people but for the first semester, college simply isn’t home. It’s a whole new world that takes time to learn how to navigate. Acknowledge that to your daughter and that you are sure she will get through it. Let her know that it’s perfectly okay to give herself some TLC by occasionally binge-watching her favorite Netflix show or texting her friends from home. But also tell her that if she’s hit with a bout of homesickness, she can help herself feel better by getting decent sleep and exercising from time to time. Those two strategies alone can ease feelings of sadness substantially, making it easier to cope with her new life.
Your Love (from afar) – This is the hardest for most parents but potentially the most important. Going to college is an incredible opportunity for your daughter to transition from child to independent adult, but she can’t do it if you are texting her three times a day. Letting her find her way socially and academically may be a struggle at times, but getting through it with minimal parental involvement will build her confidence and give her personal strength that will last a lifetime.
As a parent, watching your child struggle can be awful, and it may take herculean strength not to intervene. But we want our children to become well-adjusted adults who can navigate the adult world on their own. So, tell her you love and support her and are there as a safety net if calamity should strike, but that you are going to step back from involvement in her everyday life. When my older daughter was a college freshman, I had a “don’t text unless texted to” policy. It wasn’t easy, and I probably didn’t follow it one hundred percent of the time, but it did help curb the temptation to weigh in on her daily life.
If you have a daughter who is about to leave for college, bravo to you! You did it. You’ve given her a wonderful jumping off point to start her adult life. Now you just have to let her jump.