Dr. Mary shares her insight with us on sending kids off to college…

Whether your kids are starting senior year of high school or moving into college, there are ways you can continue to protect them starting right now.

Years of good parenting have provided your children with a solid background, but as you send them off to college, you may still be worried. And that’s understandable. If it’s this year or next, they’ll be on their own for the first time.

While you’ve probably been having the sex and drugs talk for a few years now, your soon-to-be college-bound children will be more exposed to risk, yet will be removed from their traditional support structure. At the same time, you must also respect their maturity and autonomy. The conversation will get harder, so how do you, as a parent, respond to that challenge?

Evolve the conversation forward.

Your kids are growing up, and it’s important to evolve your parenting style along with them. Realize that, no matter what they project, they’ve got their own insecurities and fears about leaving home. The key is for you to convey excitement and positivity, while remaining supportive during their upcoming transition. This means respecting them for who they are without judgment and giving them the confidence to be on their own.

During senior year of high school.

As part of the college selection process, familiarize yourself with the schools’ literature on support systems and safety policies. This includes everything from intramural sports and faith-based organizations to on-campus health facilities and RA (resident advisor) programs.

If you haven’t been doing this already, now is the time to teach your kids about finances, especially paying bills and managing a checking account.

Finally, use the upcoming year to address all medical guidelines and requirements. Fill out all college health background forms. Make sure your kids are up to date on their vaccinations. Get them their own insurance card and teach them how to use it. It is especially important that they see your family physician before going off to college so they have the opportunity to discuss any concerns they have, as well as address any potential gaps in treatment after they move. And it’s great practice for them to schedule and show up for their appointment entirely on their own.

At college.

It is so important to take advantage of move-in week to familiarize yourselves with the campus and meet other parents and staff. Locate the health clinic, gym, advisor’s office, student services, and support organizations. Exchange contact information with the roommates’ parents and RAs.

Throughout the year, you can help your kids stay grounded by periodically calling or emailing them — as long as you do it in a way that respects their emerging adulthood and autonomy. Visit your kids on campus for sports or other open-house activities. Encourage their participation in campus-sponsored organizations and activities.

It’s an exciting time of independence and growth. And offering well-measured parental support can go a very long way in helping them succeed on the path to adulthood.