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Healthy Kids: Preparing your teen for the move to college

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Summer is winding down quickly for the tens of thousands of teens who are preparing to start college across the country.

Like many parents this time of year, Dr. Pilar Bradshaw with Eugene Pediatric Associates is facing a big change in her own life. Her son, Jack, is leaving home to attend college nearly 3,000 miles away at the University of Virginia.

“A lot of kids and parents are really excited about this next chapter in their lives, but I think a lot of us and our kids are really scared,” she says.

As a pediatrician who provides advice and reassurance to her patients and their parents, she is now taking her own advice on how to best handle this emotional transition.

“First, I tell parents: Don’t use the word ‘goodbye.’ Literally, don’t ever tell your kid ‘goodbye,’ because that word feels so huge to all of you. Say ‘See you soon,’ because that’s true.”

No matter which college your child is attending, Dr. Bradshaw says, it’s important for parents to help their teen locate three important things once they arrive on campus.

“Help your kid find their places, their people and their classes,” she says. “Encourage them to walk the campus to the classes they’ll be going to, because it’s much bigger than any high school they’ve been in. Join some sort of organized group or activity as soon as they can. And find a couple friends that they can hang with.”

In addition to connecting with people, Dr. Bradshaw says it’s also beneficial to connect with the landscape of the campus.

“Encourage your teen to find their favorite places, where they can go when they’re feeling nervous, anxious or sad—places they find comforting. That can also help you as a parent. Walk the campus and find a couple places that you’re bonded to, so you can go there when you visit; or you can think about those places when you’re feeling wistful for your child.”

Before heading for home and leaving your teen on their own, make sure he or she knows where on campus they can go if they need help.

“’Where do I call if I feel sick?’ The student health center. ‘Where do I call if I’m having trouble in my classes?’ The academic advising center. Make sure they are knowledgeable about those resources. This is about helping them have a structure for taking care of themselves,” Dr. Bradshaw says.

To help make the transition to college easier for your teen, have them pack their clothes and supplies early, not at the last minute. Aim to keep the last week at home before your child’s departure as normal and as routine as possible.

Is your child moving into the dorms? Check out these 10 tips to help teens and parents prepare.

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