It has been a very long time since I went to uni, but in a lot of ways it feels like it was only a few years ago. I remembered the mix of nerves and excitement that I felt as I entered this new stage of freedom. Living apart from my parents for the first time, in a new city, attending a university (which felt very grown up) and making new friends. It’s terrifying when you think about it, but also such a brilliant opportunity to have new and amazing experiences.
I studied Events Management at Sheffield Hallam and truthfully the personal growth I got from it has served me much more than the degree itself did. I made life long friends, I learnt important lessons and I gained a huge amount of really important life experience. Now that I’m a parent I can’t actually imagine what my parents were going through while I was in a big city 3 hours away, only getting in touch when I needed some cash, but I know that when Dil is that age (if he chooses to go to uni) I’ll support him in the same way they did for me. While I’m still able to vaguely remember what it felt to be a new uni student all those years ago I thought I would put together some tips for parents who are facing that journey soon.
Have trust and faith in the person you raised
The scariest thing about sending children off to uni is knowing how much responsibility they will have to deal with. I just turned 19 when I went to uni, and for a lot of teens that age this will be the first time they’ve lived away from home, paid bills, managed budgets, cooked all their own meals, etc etc. Ultimately though we have to have faith, just like my parents did, that everything we’ve done up until this point has taught them enough to succeed.
It’s terrifying when you add in all the nights out, alcohol and possibly drugs – so much could go wrong, so many bad choices could be made. Some bad choices absolutely will be made (from experience), but if we’ve raised smart kids who know right from wrong, who know how to stand up for themselves and who know that when it all does go wrong we’ve got their backs – they will be okay. The most important thing is to keep an open dialogue, and let them know that there is no judgement if they do screw up, as long as they learn those important lessons along the way. Trust and belief that they are ready for this next stage, and faith that they will ultimately make the right choices for themselves.
Talk to them about studying
This is also probably the first time they’ve had the ability to choose if they want to go to lectures and seminars or not. There is no teacher taking a register and punishing them for poor attendance, there is no parent yelling at them to get out of bed, and that makes it very very easy to not bother. Honestly I attended very little university towards the end, and it shows in my degree result.
The type of degree they’ve chosen will dictate how much seminar time they have and how much time they’ll be expected to study and do projects on their own time. Group work is also common at university, so they need to be pretended to work well with others and pull their own weight. Talk to them about what to expect, and maybe even give them a few pointers on how best to approach it. They’ll probably pretend they aren’t listening/don’t care, but may put a few of your tips into practice when they are up against a tight deadline.
They will also need to learn that fine art of citing references and using books and other papers to help illustrate points, without venturing into plagiarism territory. Plagiarism is taken very seriously at university and they need to make sure that the words they submit on their own. Tell them about websites like Scibbr who have a plagiarism checker which they can put their finished paper through to make sure it’s all good. They can just go to the website here and upload their document, and they will receive a full report detailing any areas they may need to change. An easy way to make sure they won’t get in any trouble.
Teach them about budgeting and money
It’s no secret that students are skint. A lot of students work part time, but some don’t/can’t. Student maintenance loans should cover living costs but things will be tight. A lot of teens will have little experience with budgeting their own money and being in charge of food shops. You can start teaching them from a pretty young age how to budget, how to meal plan, how to get the most from foods and avoid waste – and this is an essential life skill whether they are going to uni or not. It might seem boring to a teenager but I promise they’ll thank you one day if you can help them master this.
If you do help them out with a bit of cash – help them to be sensible with it. If my parents sent me cash back then it would almost definitely go on new clothes or a night out. My dad was wise to this, and got a Sainsbury’s Meal Ticket Card which is genuinely one of the smartest ideas ever. It’s essentially a gift card but it has two parts – my dad had one half which he was able to use to put money onto the other half which I had, and could then spend. I mean yes – it often still did go on alcohol from my Sainsbury’s local, but it did have a much better chance of being used on essentials like student noodles and toilet paper.
Another great way to help if you can is to send gift cards for a local bookstore, so they can grab the recommended texts for their courses.
Arm them with knowledge
The best way to approach this new step, in my opinion, is to be realistic with yourself about what they will be getting up to. Whether you like the idea or not, they probably will be going out, they probably will be drinking, and they probably will be having sex. Being in denial about this stuff, and refusing to discuss it with them isn’t going to help. So instead start having open and honest conversations about how they can stay safe out there. Talk about having safe sex, talk about getting STD tested regularly and using condoms. Talk about staying safe while you’re out drinking – about never driving while drunk, about keeping your drinks safe from being spiked, about not walking home alone.
You don’t need to worry about scaring them. As teens they will already be having these conversations elsewhere, but letting them know that they can talk to you about it too means they’ll be comfortable to come to you with questions or if they need help. Knowledge is absolutely power so make sure they are clued up.