Graduation day for high school kids can be one of the biggest days of their life. For parents, it can be a big transition as it is for teens but that’s understandable – you devoted 18 years to shaping your children into the wonderful people they are and it’s now time to let them go forth and start the next chapter in their life as independent adults. While there isn’t a lot the Children’s Wellness Center team can offer as far as tips for parents on how to deal with this phase in life, take comfort in knowing you’ve given your child all of the tools they need to succeed in college. Here’s what we suggest for preparing your teen for college and perhaps ease your mind as they venture away from home.
Get your teen vaccinated.
Depending on the state and school your teen attends, certain vaccinations may be recommended or even mandatory before being able to officially start school. The meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MenACWY) is recommended to protect teens from meningitis which is a rare infection that attacks the membranes that cover the brain and the spinal cord. Meningitis can be deadly and extremely contagious. Caused by a bacterial or viral infection somewhere else in the body meningitis is commonly transmitted through close contact (like coughing and sneezing) so living in dorms puts kids at higher risk as they’re constantly exposed to others. We recommend checking with your health care provider to discuss getting vaccinated to help your teen stay healthy. Other common vaccinations that pre-college teens typically receive help to fight against human papillomavirus (HPV), whooping cough (pertussis), tetanus, and flu.
Encourage healthy habits.
The biggest challenge a lot of teens face when they get to college is balancing their newfound “freedoms”. From having a pre-planned school schedule that is followed by sports and after school activities, homework, dinner, sleep, and then repeat. When they get to college they are making their own schedules, eating what/when they want, making time for social activities, and even integrating into new groups of friends. Sleep, exercise, and proper nutrition are keys that will help your teen succeed so make sure they have all the encouragement and necessary tools in place to help them make smart decisions – because parents aren’t always going to be there to offer those friendly reminders!
As an adult, we should be getting 7-9 hours of sleep daily. When we’re tired, we can become stressed out, irritable, and have difficulty concentrating on the things that deserve our undivided attention. It can also lead to increased risks of developing chronic diseases and conditions as they continue to grow (like diabetes, obesity, depression, etc.). With 24 hour dining hall options and a plethora of tempting food items that can add unhealthy amounts of fat, sugar, and salt into the mix. Regular exercise also has many health benefits and at least 2.5 hours a week of physical activity can do the trick; not only does it help to keep the mind fresh but also helps to combat the “freshman 15”.
Educate your teen.
There may be a lot of new experiences your teen is introduced to during their time at college. Two biggest concerns our parents share are their worry their child will get involved with using harmful substances (underage drinking and drug use) and engaging in sexual activity. There can be a lot of unnecessary pressure that teens put on themselves to fit in and subsequently peer pressure plays a large part in a teen’s participation in underage drinking so that they’ll better fit into a group. College drinking is already so widespread across the nation that it is sometimes thought to be the normal experience teens have – but this doesn’t mean that it is any less important or dire. Having a conversation with your teen about the dangers of binge drinking, drunk driving, and long-term health effects in advance can certainly help encourage your teen to make smarter decisions when they’re on their own.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), nearly half of the 20 million newly diagnosed sexual transmitted diseases (STDs) each year are among the youth, more specifically the 15-24 year old category. Unprotected sex puts any one at risk of infection, and while many of these STDs are treatable, not all are curable or detectable. Untreated STDs can have long term effects like pelvic disease, infertility, chronic pain, etc. – encouraging your teen to practice safe sex (whether abstinence or the use of condoms) is just as important to their safety as reminding them to pay attention to their surrounds when walking alone at night, or remembering to turn off the stove after cooking.
Teens are going to experiment with many different things over their lifetime and while we may not be able to monitor every aspect of their lives once they’ve moved out for college, we can equip them with the tools they need to make sound decisions on matters that could have long-lasting effects long after their college years.