By Kelly Arant | M.ED, NCC, LPC


A friend of mine recently received a notification that it was time to schedule senior pictures for her daughter. This notification sent her mind into a whirl. She knew her child was to begin her senior year, but that notification began her thinking about the short year remaining until her child left for college. Was she ready? Had my friend done all she could to prepare her child for living independently as an emerging adult?

Emerging adults are considered to be persons between the ages of 18 and 25. According to Drs. Laura Kastner and Jennifer Wyatt in their article, Launching Years: No Time to Stop Parenting, about a third of US high school graduates will go away to college, with roughly another third living at home(2). This is a huge transition for both parents and their student. 

In her article, Launching Your College Student, Gwen Kohl, PhD, offers great insight into this transition. She reminds parents that for an 18-year-old, the transition to college might be the biggest change they have experienced so far. Both parents and teens are anxious about the transition and can actually do what she calls “spoil the nest” to make the transition easier.  Spoiling the nest could include breaking rules, starting fights, testing boundaries, being disrespectful, etc(3). If as a parent you are aware this could occur, you can plan for it. A parent's job during the launching years remains the same as it has always been: to nurture qualities that support the development of a resilient, responsible, productive, and socially and emotionally competent young person(2).

Dr. Kohl also encourages parents to be intentional about setting expectations with their soon-to-be college freshman(3)—plans that might include how they plan to communicate with you. Depending on your family dynamic, this could be a weekly phone call, or even a simple, texted  “thumbs up” emoji that all is okay.

When considering practical skills a child should know before launching into college, Ellen Sturm Niz with provides a list of basic skills. They include:

  • Cooking for themselves

  • Waking themselves up on time

  • Doing their own laundry

  • Filling their own car up with gas

  • Advocating for themselves

  • Grocery shopping, making doctor’s appointments

  • Taking public transportation

In addition to the above life skills, students would also need to know basic money management as well as what do to in case of an emergency. It’s never too late (or too early) to start teaching kids practical, daily living skills.

Drs. Kastner and Wyatt also remind parents that up until the 20's, the brain's frontal lobes, the area responsible for self-control, judgment, and emotional regulation, remain immature. This is why it is so important as parents to strike a balance between being available for the true emergency and standing aside while your college student works through their own difficulties. Why is this important? Because college is not just about getting a diploma. It’s about allowing your child to develop into a competent adult.

If your child has a disability (ADHD, learning disability, physical, medical, or emotional impairment), preparing them for college becomes all about self-advocacy and self-management(1). In an Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) webinar titled, Helicopters, Blackhawks and Snowplows: Parents of Students with Disabilities, Dr. Jane Thierfeld-Brown discusses the transition to college for students with disabilities.

She sites resilience as the top factor for college success. Resilience, as defined by the American Psychological Association, is the ability to recover quickly form difficulties and toughness. It is also something that can be learned. When speaking on resiliency, Dr. Thierfeld-Brown lists the following parents can do to prepare their child for college. Although the list was created for parents of students with disabilities, it has application to all students:

  1. Don’t accommodate every need.

  2. Avoid eliminating all risk.

  3. Teach problem-solving.

  4. Teach your kids concrete skills.

  5. Avoid “why” questions, ask “how.”

  6. Don’t provide all the answers.

  7. Avoid talking in catastrophic terms.

  8. Let your kids make mistakes.

  9. Help them manage their emotions.

  10. Model resiliency.

Launching a child to college can be challenging. With some intentional planning, it can be the beginning of an exciting new life phase for both the child and the parent.

parentingKate Tedeton