Tips for Bonding With Your Teen the Summer Before College
By Rebecca Guez
The summer before your teen leaves for college can feel bittersweet. You are excited for them and also want to make the most of the time before they go off. They are almost adults; they’re managing their own time, making their own plans and have their own busy social lives. The importance of this summer may feel not only like a last hurrah but, it is also the last memories that your teen will have with you before they go off into that bridge between home and the professional world, that is college. Here are 4 tips to make the most of it.
First and foremost, remember that just because your child is going off to college does not mean that your job as a parent is over. Your teen may make it seem like they don’t need you anymore, but believe me they do! Don’t make jokes about empty nesting or how you can’t wait until you have some quiet around the house. In fact, as teens get older they begin to realize more and more just how valuable you are to them, so while your role may evolve; continue to be there for them in any way that you can.
Over the summer, make a point to have the same conversation a few times where you spell that out for them. “I want you to know that I see you are an adult. I see that there are so many things you can do on your own. You are capable, strong, independent, smart and mature. All those things can be true, AND I want you to know that still, I am here for you. Everyone needs help and support, no matter what their age is. And no matter where you are or what you do, I am your parent, I am still always here for you.” It doesn’t have to be a formal sit down conversation, in fact the more relaxed, in the moment the better. You can say it while you’re driving in the car together, before bed, or in the morning over breakfast. Just make sure to say it.
Use the summer to continue to show up for them, both physically and emotionally. Don’t let your mind trick you into thinking that you’re done. Continue to be and act as a parent. Your child will feel safer because of it.
Second, find things to do with them that allow you to connect with eachother. Connection is everything, it is what keeps you bonded, close and open with eachother. When your now-teen was younger you knew the importance of making time for them; throwing a ball, playing a game, drawing or reading with them. It may seem less important now that your child is older, and harder to find the time or the thing to do to connect over. Your teen may not ask for it like they used to beg for it when they were younger. However, making the time and finding those ways to connect is just as important, it just may look different.
Make the time and find a point of connection, even if it’s doing something you don’t necessarily enjoy. Be there, be present and smile through it anyway. Go for walks, the beach, cook, or even watch tiktok or play video games with them. The more you bond before they go away, the deeper the connection you will have with each other will be, and the more they will want to keep connecting with you while they are at college.
Third, show them that they are, and will always be safe with you. Remember how when your now teen was a toddler and they would get hurt and a hug and kiss would make it better? It didn’t make it better because it took away the physical pain. It made it better because your child felt your love, presence, care, and connection. Those sweet moments made them feel safe. While your teen may be going through more than what a hug and kiss can heal, you can still create those safe moments by listening deeply to what they have to say, choosing empathy and listening without judgment. This can be really, really hard to do especially with teenagers. Oftentimes you may find that your opinions differ tremendously. You can see the mistakes your child is making and you want to save them from them. However, our opinions and judgements of their behavior and actions are often what lead to the biggest power struggles and fights between parents and teens.
The summer before college is not the time to discipline, at this point your teen is who they are, for now. Don’t try to change or fix them. Don’t come down hard on them. Be gentle and thoughtful. Listen when they speak, don’t offer too many opinions and try not to judge situations. Don’t hold the fact that they are going away, or that they better learn how to do this or that, be responsible, and trustworthy over their heads. This will all just make them doubt themselves more and get more annoyed at you.
Simply speaking, when they talk ask them if they want your opinion and if they don’t, don’t offer it. Rather than evaluate what they say, get curious and ask them more questions about their opinions. And if that’s hard for you to do, just be quiet and listen when they talk. Soon, your teenager is not going to be in close physical proximity to you. Be someone you would want to keep in touch with.
Fourth, take the summer to lean into your feelings and your teens feelings. Honoring them, being open about them, talking about them. The coming year may bring with it emotions they hadn’t experienced before, or maybe they will be intensified by a new environment, more schoolwork, making new friends, or being on their own. Your own emotions may be intensified with the looming big change your family will experience. Be sensitive and aware that those feelings can heighten the environment, and make everyone more reactive and on edge. Name it, call it out and talk about it. Make sure your teen goes off to college knowing how to recognize that when they are having an uncomfortable experience they’re having a big feeling. Help them learn to name their feelings so they can understand that that discomfort is just that, a feeling. Their feelings don’t define them and they are not their feelings. Feelings are important to pay attention to but not to surrender all of our power to and allow them to overwhelm them. They mean something BUT they don’t define who your teen is. For example, just because they walk into a big hall of students and they feel anxiety doesn’t mean there’s any real threat or that they can’t handle it. It doesn’t make them anxious, it means they are feeling anxious, which is quite a normal response.
It might feel lonely in a new place until they make friends, but that doesn’t mean they will be alone forever or that there is anything wrong with them. In a new place with new people you don’t yet know, it would be expected to feel lonely.
Remember, just because your teen is venturing out into the world beyond your home and community doesn’t mean they don’t need you. It is just the beginning of the next chapter of your parenting journey. Stay connected, curious, open and continue to be their safe space. They will thank you for it and you will reap the rewards of a beautiful summer and relationship with your teen.