Sending your first born off to college may be exhilarating for them, but it can be bittersweet (or just plain terrifying) for parents. I know because I just did it last year.
As a parent, you may worry about a lot of things.
Will they be safe?
Will they get enough sleep?
Will they study and not flunk out?
Will they make friends?
Will they party too much?
Will they not party enough? (some people may have kids who need a little push socially)
What will happen if they get sick, and you’re not there to help?
Essentially, all these worries center around the same things – will they be happy, healthy, safe and successful?
The answer is yes. Maybe they won’t be all those things at every moment—but that can be a good thing because, let’s be honest, there’s a lot to learn from struggles, challenges, and failures.
So, what can you do to set your new college student up for health, happiness, safety and success without stifling their independence?
Here are a few ideas…
1. Consider Getting Your College Freshman a Standing Desk
We all worry about our children leading a healthy lifestyle. The number of hours parents devote to their children’s youth sports is proof of this. But as they move on to college and the professional world, more of their time will be spent studying and working, and less will be spent on athletics and physical pursuits. So, what can be done to help combat the “freshman 15”?
Well, for starters a standing desk can be a good option. Our kids may need to study long hours to be successful in their classes, but that doesn’t mean they have to spend all of their time sitting down. A standing desk gives your student flexibility to sit when it feels right and to stand when they need to change positions, even if they aren’t at a stopping point in their work.
Many studies suggest that avoiding the completely sedentary work style that traditional desks dictate – with potentially many hours spent in just one position – is a better option for a number of reasons. Having the ability to move more can increase blood flow to the brain, help students avoid stiffness, and maybe even create more energetic feelings than remaining seated in one position for hours on end.
Another benefit of getting your child a standing desk is setting them up with the expectation that this is how people work. Our new college students are still young enough to be forming life habits and developing expectations for what they think is “normal.” As a result, a standing desk can turn into something they can seek out in their work life for their whole career.
2. Encourage Your New College Student to Participate in Rec or Intramural Sports
And, while it is likely that many students may not continue to participate in sports once they enter college, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can emphasize to your child that moving on from high school and travel league sports doesn’t have to mean quitting athletics entirely. Many colleges have a wealth of intramural sports, which students can participate in – often for little to no cost.
And if your child wasn’t involved in athletics in high school, this can be a great opportunity – intramural college sports sometimes can have an atmosphere that more closely resembles the kind of laid back, just plain fun atmosphere of recreational sports that adults often enjoy. And once the promise (mirage?) of those elusive college sports scholarships is out of the picture, there’s more room for fun. My son swam throughout high school for his high school team and went to states three out of four years, which he loved. But, as it turns out, the more moderate pace of swimming for his college intramural team is a nice change and a better fit with his rigorous engineering classes.
Or, you can encourage your student to try classes or clubs based on other physical activities – yoga, dance, spinning, pilates, tai chi, fencing. Many colleges have an abundance of these opportunities, so students can try a little bit of everything.
3. Get Your College Freshman a Small Refrigerator
This is a good idea because even if your kid ends up getting the most complete meal plan at school, as my son did, it’s still good to have some fresh and healthy options close at hand to snack on. A small refrigerator can be all that’s necessary to store a few items like fresh fruits, cheese, milk, yogurt, hummus and cut veggies.
Depending on how picky your kid is and what the food is like at the school’s dining hall, this can be a big deal. My son is not a picky eater, but admittedly, he thinks his school’s dining hall food is mediocre at best. And that seems to be the general consensus at his school. Some schools have great reputations for their dining halls, and others, not so much.
For some students this can even be a necessity in the case of medical conditions like diabetes.
Mostly likely if you’re in any kind of college town, you can purchase a small fridge at Walmart or Target. There may also be services that rent refrigerators to students. This was the option we chose for my son since he lives on the third floor of a historic dorm with no elevators. Letting someone else lug that thing up the stairs held a great appeal for us. Also, when he finished for the year, he emailed them, they came and got it, and we didn’t have to give it another thought.
4. Find Sneaky Ways for Your New College Student to Get Exercise – Like Maybe Skip the Scooter
My son’s third floor room in a dorm with no elevators brings me to my next point – sometimes there are sneaky opportunities for them to get exercise built into their days. Several trips up and down the stairs are good exercise that my son got all year, just as a normal part of his day.
Another opportunity like this is walking or riding a bike. There are LOTS of kids with scooters at my son’s school. I suppose this is convenient for them (except for parking them – that may be a pain if everyone has them and space is limited). There are two reasons I’m glad my son didn’t want one because I really wouldn’t want him to have one.
First, there’s the safety factor. Lots of kids who have these may wear helmets, but many don’t. When there’s an accident with a scooter versus a car, this is dangerous for the scooter rider to begin with, but especially so if they aren’t wearing a helmet. And because scooters ride on the streets just like cars, the chances of accidents increase significantly.
Second, I like that my son walks to his classes. We got him a bike that he rode between classes for a while, but ultimately he preferred walking. If he has two classes back-to-back across campus from each other, this means a very brisk 15-minute walk. And even if he doesn’t have any treks like that, he does walk several miles every day just as a normal part of his life.
Again, he’s getting sneaky exercise. And I like it.
5. Keep the Windows Clear So Your New College Student Gets Enough Sun
They may not be plants, but our kids still need to see the sun. Maybe it’s because I’m a Floridian. Or maybe it’s because I’m kind of claustrophobic, but I think we all need to see the sun from our rooms and our workspaces. It’s good for mental health and it’s just a good idea.
6. Send Your College Freshman with Vitamins – Especially Vitamin C
Again, this may be my own personal philosophy, but I think vitamins are good for you. We can hope our new college students are getting all the nutrients they need from their regular diets, but the fact is that this is not likely. At a minimum, I encourage my kids to take a multi-vitamin, a probiotic – we are big devotees of Florastor after my younger son’s experience with MRSA, but that’s a whole different blog – and vitamin C every day. They both often take B-12 as an energy booster. If nothing else, my kids are well trained to take vitamin C pretty much anytime they even see someone sneeze. It seems to work well for us.
7. Care Packages from Home and Your Support
Sending your new college student care packages from home with little goodies like gift cards, pens and pencils, favorite non-perishable snacks and anything else you think will bring a smile is a good idea. Even the most social kids may feel homesick being away from family.
And, the most important thing of all – your support without judgment, nagging, or all those other bad habits we parents can fall into. I was very fortunate that my son called almost every night. I loved hearing his voice. Since I wanted desperately to keep those calls coming, I was on my very best mom behavior. I just let him know I was here to talk, missed him and was terribly proud of him no matter what. And I only nagged a little bit (I mean I am a mom!).
And it worked – he called me even when he had things to say that he wasn’t dying to tell me about.
In Conclusion – They Will Be OK, and You Probably Will Too
I can’t lie. Taking your first kid to college is hard. I know people who’ve told me they started taking anti-depressants without even telling their spouses. I managed without going that far. And I would say I only cried for about the first hour of my five-hour drive home after I left him.
But probably the best thing you can do to make the whole experience easier on yourself is to know that you’re doing all you can – but not too much – to set your child up for happiness, healthy living, and success. And letting them know that
you’re always there for them, no matter what. Not to fix everything for them, but to help them learn how to fix it for themselves.