Off to university: Have you prepared your teenager?
With drop-out rates anywhere from 3 per cent to 14 per cent, it's clear that it's not smooth sailing once they are there, so what can you do to help them?
Although most 18 year olds think of themselves as adults, the first term at university can be tough: freshers' flu, budgeting, making new friends, and of course, the academic work.
Ready, steady, cook
The practical stuff first. What to buy? If they are self-catering in halls, they'll need all the kitchen paraphernalia. In my experience, as a mum of two graduates, it's worth buying reasonable quality pans and knives as they have to last three years, and if you buy cheap as chips they'll need replacing quickly. But be realistic - in shared kitchens, equipment can be borrowed and can go missing.
If your teen can't boil the proverbial egg, and they aren't happy to live on pot noodles for three years, then the summer holidays is the time to teach them how to rustle up the spag bol, and a few other simple meals.
And given the budget restrictions they will have, it's not a bad idea to let them cook for themselves, or at least do a weekly shop from the safety of home for a week.
And can they wash? No, not themselves, do they know how to separate out the denims from the white T shirts? One independent school, Abbotsholme in Shropshire, houses its sixth formers in 6-bedroom log cabins to emulate a typical student flat. The head teacher was shocked at how many sixth formers didn't know how to do their laundry, cook, or clean a bathroom; so they learn before they leave school. What better excuse do you need to enlist them in helping around the house this summer?
But it's the sex, drugs and rock 'n roll that is the real worry. Many universities offer a great deal of support for students: counselling is free. At Bristol University, Dr Dominique Thompson, GP and Director of Student Health, told me, "There is peer pressure around socialising, drinking alcohol, and taking drugs. There are issues with having to navigate the NHS alone for the first time, and other support services. Minor illnesses such as colds can be quite overwhelming if they don't have familiar people around to ask advice of." She also added that issues with STIs and contraception are reasons for GP consultations amongst new students.
Drugs and alcohol won't be new issues for most teens, but it's essential for parents to keep the lines of communication open without nagging or preaching.
Bristol University has a positive policy of identifying students who are having problems coping with academic work which may necessitate further help, and they have a special clinic for students with eating disorders. Dr Thompson warns parents that any existing problems such as anorexia do not magically disappear in a new environment and can become worse.
Thompson suggested that if parents are worried, they should take a softly, softly approach: "Don't say ' Goodness, you look thin!' , next time they are home, just pick a good time to ask if there is anything they want to talk about."
What should you look out for? Thompson suggests any major change in appearance or behaviour: weight loss, weight gain, poor skin, lots of minor illnesses, sleeping a lot more or not sleeping much, constantly phoning home, or even not phoning at all.
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Ask for help
Depending on the content of their degree, your teen may feel, as Thompson put it, "as if they have been hit by a brick", and learning to study independently is a major issue for many students; no more nagging parents or teachers - they are on their own.
As a parent, it's vital that you suggest to your teen that they ask for help - from a personal tutor or a counsellor - if they are falling behind with the work.
Dan, who is a biology graduate, suffered from chronic fatigue which resulted in depression. He said, "Asking for help was the key to my recovery. Knowing that my flat mates cared - even if they just knocked on my door each morning to see if I was okay - kept me going."
Most students take to university life like the proverbial ducks to water.
What you can do to help is:
• Ensure they know the basics about laundry, cooking, cleaning, and food hygiene - poisoning their flat mates won't go down well.
• Discuss budgeting - how will their loan cover food, bills, clothes and entertainment.
• Set expectations about contact: do they want a weekly phone call or more often?
• Emphasise the importance of registering straight away with a GP: most universities set this up during the first week, but if your teen is not living in hall, it can be harder to organise.
• Sort out what they need for I.T. Most universities provide the internet in rooms, but you might need connection cables, and a computer and printer are essential.
So you can now relax, and watch them grow into wonderful adults!
If you have a teen moving away from home, congratulations and good luck from everyone at Parentdish.