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Is Your Child Emotionally Ready for College? Tips for Parents

Full length shot of a young college student studying at homeWhether you’re a parent or a teenager, there may be a mixture of emotions as children go off to college. Excitement, hope, fear, and sadness are just a few of the many emotions parents and teens may experience. While many students enjoy their first year at college, some do not. Some students will go away to school and have a difficult time adjusting. Some will feel enormous pressure to succeed academically. Some will feel overwhelmed and return home. And some, unfortunately, may struggle to the extent they consider suicide (Fagan, 2017).

Some mental health professionals believe 18 is too young for a person to go away to college. In their Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen (2017) suggest that young people might be better off attending a local community college for a while. They point out the brain is not fully developed until age 25 for women and 29 for men. According to Dr. Meg Jay (2012), the growth of the brain in the twenties is the second-largest growth spurt the brain experiences—second only to the growth spurt the brain experiences as a toddler.

One of the major concerns for sending 18-year-olds away to college is that mental health issues are on the rise among young people. In fact, 75% of mental health issues begin before age 24. According to Amen and Amen, the environment of a four-year university can trigger a person’s underlying mental health condition for the following reasons:

  1. Academics are more demanding
  2. Access to alcohol and drugs
  3. Poor sleep hygiene
  4. Poor nutrition habits

Some research indicates the current generation is having an even harder time adjusting to being away at college than generations before them. While waiting until a teenager has completed some community college before sending them away to school may be a good option for some, for others a four-year university makes more sense personally and financially. No matter how you proceed, there are steps you can take as a parent to prepare your child for success in their freshman year and beyond. Below are some suggestions to help your teenager transition to college and limit potential mental health challenges:

While you have taken the time to prepare your child academically for college, consider it also a wise investment to prepare them emotionally for college.

  • Educate them about the importance of sleep, diet, and exercise: Factors such as lack of sleep, poor diet, and lack of exercise can precipitate or exacerbate mental health issues. Finding natural ways to improve physical health can go a long way in contributing to better mental health.
  • When you are with them during orientation, locate the counseling office and visit it: Stigma about mental health can prevent a student from reaching out for help. Encouraging your child to talk to someone if they experience a decline in their mental health plants the seed that getting help is accepted and even encouraged. Let them know it’s okay to struggle.
  • Consider scheduling a mental health assessment with a licensed professional: Because most mental health issues begin surfacing in young adulthood, underlying tendencies can be present from a young age. If you suspect your child struggles with anxiety, depression, mood swings, or other issues, consider having them assessed by a licensed professional as a preventative measure. If your child is still a year away from college, consider taking them to visit a therapist now to learn practical skills for managing potential mental health issues. Counselors, psychologists, and therapists are trained in utilizing practical skills to help people deal with distressing thoughts and emotions, and many specialize in helping teens.

College can be a time of great risk and reward. While you have taken the time to prepare your child academically for college, consider it also a wise investment to prepare them emotionally for college. If you are concerned about the emotional health of your child, contact a licensed professional.


  1. Amen, D., & Amen, T. (2017, July 19). Big brain issues of sending kids to college at age 18. Retrieved from https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-brain-warriors-way-podcast/id1178337794?mt=2&i=390066914
  2. Amen, D., & Amen, T. (2017, July 18). Natural and safe ways to treat depression. Retrieved from https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-brain-warriors-way-podcast/id1178337794?mt=2&i=390024474
  3. Fagan, K. (2017, July 6). Honoring the life of Penn student-athlete Madison Holleran and ‘continuing to talk for Maddy.’ Retrieved from http://www.espn.com/espnw/voices/article/19859160/honoring-life-penn-student-athlete-madison-holleran-continuing-talk-maddy
  4. James, S.D. (2017, June 28). Mental health problems rising among college students. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/college-game-plan/mental-health-problems-rising-among-college-students-n777286
  5. Jay, M. (2012). The defining decade: Why your twenties matter—and how to make the most of them now. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing.

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Amy Quinn, MA, MS, LMFT, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Sasha

    August 29th, 2017 at 3:03 PM

    If you feel like they are not emotionally mature enough for college yet then there is nothing wrong with having them take a gap year to grow and learn and figure some things out. I think that there are plenty of kids who would probably benefit having a year or at least a semester between finishing up high school and going to college. College isn’t always for everyone and we need to stop with the thinking that this is the only path that good high school students need to take. There are so many other opportunities out there for them and who knows? they might just surprise you after a while when they discover the things that they really enjoy and are good at.

  • Amy Quinn

    August 30th, 2017 at 10:44 AM

    Thank you so much for your insightful comment! Yes I agree that some 18 year olds are not ready for college and might thrive in different environments. I wanted to provide parents who are sending their kids away some insights and tips to help their children adjust to life away.

  • Sasha

    August 30th, 2017 at 2:25 PM

    Yeah it has to be hard as a parent wondering if you have done everything to prepare them for this whole new world that they are about to experience!

  • Dennis

    August 31st, 2017 at 11:12 AM

    There are going to be all sorts of life lessons that unfortunately our children have to learn about on their own. No matter how much we hover and wish to protect them, the truth is that it is never going to really hit home for them until they have had the chance to experience many of these things on their own.

    This includes feeling scared and being afraid of being away from home for the first time, and it also includes learning how to fail gracefully and then getting back up again. I know that as parents our instinct is to want to protect them from harm, but if they are never allowed to go these things themselves then how are they ever really going to learn?

  • Bianca

    September 4th, 2017 at 6:27 AM

    I am pretty certain that my daughter is far better equipped to handle this new change than I am. She is my only child so she has moved out and gone to college this year and I am feeling that empty nest challenge for the first time. I want to talk to her and find out everything new that she is learning but at the same time I know that I have to give her space. It’s hard when for 17 to 18 years she has been my main focus and now she is gone from under my roof and I find that I have lost who I am. I guess now is a good time to start rediscovering my own likes and dislikes, but it’s a challenge for sure!

  • Nathan

    September 5th, 2017 at 2:46 PM

    This is our jobs as parents to prepare them for the time when it is finally their chance to live the nest. I want my kids to spread their wings and fly as high as they can, and I would like to be able to take a little bit of the credit for that. As soon as they get here it is up to parents to teach your children well, to teach them to be good people and how to take care of themselves and others. If they fail, then at some point I have to look back at my own parenting and can probably deduce that I in some way failed them.

  • guest

    August 24th, 2019 at 12:31 PM

    Many of my friends and I went to community colleges in the 1970s. We thrived. We had roommates, and we mostly all worked to help pay for our expenses. Nobody borrowed money for “basic living expenses of food, clothing” from our student loans, we were all told firmly that we should get summer employment and even work during the school years to help pay our basics.
    I’m very glad for the basic expectations that set out the value of education, right along with working.

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