How to help your teen get ready for—and succeed in—his first year of higher education
Talk to Your Teen About Staying Healthy
Talking to your teen about his physical and mental health while he’s in school is important to his success. A good mental health discussion for parents to have with their teen is the importance of eating well, getting adequate sleep, and setting time aside to unwind, Dr. Ragouzeos says. But decide how much you’re going to do for your teen once she’s in college, he advises. There is a line between advocating for your teen and not teaching him how to be his own advocate.
Megan Hener, certified personal trainer and owner of Meg Hener Fitness in Clifton, NJ, believes lack of structure is the number one culprit for deteriorating physical and mental health in college students, along with exhaustion from over scheduling. “Sometimes meal prepping takes time and a lot of college students do not want to invest the time out of their already packed schedules. The same goes for workouts,” she says.
But a healthy lifestyle is so important—in college and in life after.
“There are no negatives to living a healthy lifestyle and it’s setting the stage for the rest of your life,” Hener says. “First is the obvious, looking and feeling better overall. Exercise also helps you mentally. When you do something for yourself daily, it gives you an opportunity to clear your head and feel good about yourself.”
Share these tips with your teen to help her stay healthy, mentally and physically:
- Find on-campus resources. If your teen is on medication and/or is seeing a therapist prior to college, have her connect with and learn about her school’s resources before she arrives, Dr. Ragouzeos recommends.
- Make time for fitness. A busy lifestyle is no excuse to neglect physical well-being. Hener’s an entrepreneur and mom of two, yet still clears one to two hours a day for her workouts. “I set aside that time no matter what, whether it’s not scheduling clients or waking up extra early,” she says.
- Choose healthier options. Eating fresh, full, and balanced meals with healthy proteins and fats cuts down on snacking and late-night binge eating. “Packing healthy snacks [helps to avoid] hitting the vending machines,” Hener says. “Looking at menus before going out to eat and knowing what you will order can reduce giving into peer pressure to make an unhealthy choice.”
- Get a workout buddy or register for a group workout. Once you get into a groove of incorporating workouts into your daily life, it becomes something you actually look forward to.
- Drink in moderation if you are of legal age. Avoiding alcohol may not feel like an option to some college students, but refraining from drinking every night and choosing a light beer over sweeter drinks is a way to watch sugar intake.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Many schools have anonymous hotlines and can connect students to external sources if needed. Although there continues to be stigma around mental health, it is much different than it used to be.
Talk to Your Teen About Being Safe at Parties
It is important to remind your child that movies depicting college party scenes are not reality; they rarely show the consequences of partying and drinking. And give her these basic tips for having fun wisely:
- Have a designated driver. This person should be determined before she and her group of friends arrive at the party. Ask if she has Uber or Lyft downloaded on her smartphone for easy access. (She should always double check that the driver is the same person indicated on her phone, and that the license plate is a match as well.)
- Have a buddy system. Be sure your teen knows to arrive at and leave the party in the same Uber, Lyft, or designated driver’s car as his friends.
- Keep an eye on your drinks, even nonalcoholic ones. This will decrease any chances of her drink being tampered with.
Though you may not be ready to talk about your child leaving the nest just yet, having discussions with your teen about these topics can prevent future issues. “You don’t want to wait until there is a problem or scramble at the last minute,” Dr. Ragouzeos says.