preparing your child for college

Behavior & Development • Mar 03, 2021

Preparing Your Child to Leave for College: Making Health Decisions for Themselves

Raising children is filled with clichés about how quickly they grow.  “Blink and you will miss it,” they say.  “The days are long, but the years are short,” they prophesize.  “You only get 18 summers, use them wisely,” they advise.  My daughter just decided which college she will be attending this fall.  Suddenly, these corny phrases hold a surprising amount of truth.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how to best navigate these last few months before college.  In some ways, I feel this is my last chance to make sure my daughter knows all the things I want her to know.

Can she do laundry and cook for herself?  Does she know when the car needs an oil change?  Does she know how to get the best deal at the grocery store?  Does she know never to pay shipping when shopping online?  Does she know what to wear to a job interview?  Does she know how to make sure it is really her Uber driver?  Does she know never to take a mixed drink at a party?  Does she know not to go to a party alone?  Does she know she can always come to her father and me?  Does she know her self-worth?  To date, I have stopped short of yelling out random facts while driving in the car together, but as that college drop-off nears, I can’t guarantee anything.

At least I don’t have to worry too much about teaching her to care for her health.  With the help of her pediatrician, this process has been ongoing for years.  Preparing young adults to care for their health starts in elementary school.

What your child should learn from their pediatrician

Elementary school aged children should be able to interact directly with their pediatrician.  Expect your child’s doctor to talk directly to her as the patient and depend on you, as the parent, to fill in the blanks.  Your child’s pediatrician should explain, in words your child can understand, information about any diagnoses and treatments.  The pediatrician should talk to your child about healthy habits and should take seriously any concerns or questions your child may have.

During the tween years, your child should be taking charge of the doctor’s visit.  He or she should be learning to become comfortable talking with a doctor and be given time to ask questions and explain any concerns.

What your teenager should understand about their health

By the time your child is a teenager, he or she should understand any medical conditions they may have.  Your child should know which medications to take and when to take them.  By the late teenage years, your child needs to know any important family history.  If they take medications, they need to know how, when, and where to get refills.  Your older teenager needs to know how to find a doctor and schedule an appointment.  And they need to understand medical insurance.

This transfer of responsibility from parent to young adult can be intimidating, but it is a natural and important step towards independence.  As I look forward to this next milestone in my daughter’s life, I have also been looking backward.  Did we do everything we could?  Probably not.  Should we have done anything differently?  Probably so.  Is she going to be OK?  Definitely.  She is going to be great.