• How to Help Your Teen Stay Healthy in College | Jill and David Henry | Episode 202

  • Stay healthy in collegeCollege is widely touted to high school students as “the best four years of your life.” And that may very well wind up being true, but those years come with massive changes for our kids that they aren’t prepared for–not least of which is the sudden responsibility of entirely managing their own lives without the support and structure they’re accustomed to leaning on. Jill and David Henry are here today to help with that preparation; they join Mighty Parenting podcast host Sandy Fowler in giving advice on how to prepare our high schoolers for that reality–how to set their own schedules, manage their own finances, assign their own study hours, and how to generally stay healthy in college.

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    A Favorite Quote from the Show: 

    They go into school with these expectations that it’s just going to be fun and partying and independence and freedom, and that freedom in particular is what they’re really looking forward to. What they find when they get there is the adjustment to that freedom is really hard.

    High Points From Our Conversation on Helping Teens Stay Healthy in College:

    Quote on how to stay healthy in collegeOur high schoolers are usually fed the narrative that college is going to be the best four years of their lives, and they tend to believe it—right up until they actually start attending.

    High school is regimented—same classmates, same teachers, same lunch hours. Same classes all day, every day. Parent-enforced homework and extra-curriculars. Going from that to utter freedom in arranging your life is often utterly disorienting.

    College is hard. It’s a massive transition for most teens, and requires many changes in their usual habits and lifestyle for them to be successful. Those changes are a struggle, and often engender feelings of guilt and failure in our teens for not living up to the narrative’s expectations.

    How does your teen take all of the different facets of their life and create a rule system for themself, create a life that they can manage—not a template that they’re given—and learn the skills to do this on their own so that it lasts?

    Most high school students are most excited about the freedom, before they realize how much work they’re going to have to do to manage that freedom. That excitement is not a bad thing—just start conversations with your teen early and get them thinking about it. What about college most excites you? The freedom? What does that mean to you? What do you think you’re going to do with it?

    To help kids enjoy and stay healthy in college, help them identify the intangible positives about setting and keeping to their own schedules. They need the intrinsic reward of feeling good about themselves for showing up to class, or working out when everyone else is sleeping in, or helping a classmate with a difficult project—that’s critical when they’re setting up their own structures and rules for their lives. 

    College requires juggling about two dozen more balls than most teens are used to, and health—mental health especially—tends to be one of the first balls dropped when pressures ramp up. Here’s a small step to stay healthy in college: help your teen make a list of 10 things that help relieve stress, or make them happy, calm or content. When they’re feeling overwhelmed, they can go look at that list and pick something to do.

    Encourage your graduated senior to add one new habit during the summer before college—something easy and not intimidating, that they haven’t done before. This helps them build the skill of independently adding something new to their life and sticking to it, something that’s good for them that they don’t have to do, that they’re choosing to do. The earlier they start doing this, the easier it will be for them to fall back on this skillset in college when they really need it.

    Let your teen start taking on as much personal responsibility as possible early; ideally, in high school. Have them decide when they’re getting up, how much time they need to get ready for the day, what they’re taking for lunch, etc. They need to develop the skill of being responsible, and learn how to think ahead.

    Do a quick check-in. Ask yourself, what am I still doing for my kid that they could be doing for themselves? It doesn’t have to be anything huge or complicated; talk to your kid, ask them to think about it, and allow them to take on more personal responsibility now, while much of their life is still structured, so they still have a fall-back while learning how to do these things independently.

    So, your freshman is coming home for Thanksgiving break near the end of their first college semester. You want to see how they’re doing, what behaviors have changed, is there anything concerning, are they doing well, are they healthy, et cetera. You also want them to know you’re there, that you support them and love them. That’s a lot to cram into 72 hours, so you want to start early. Don’t. 

    Kids need to re-acclimate to home life. Give them time before initiating heavy conversations and expecting real, raw answers. Set up some activities, familiar ways to spend time together, and initiate simpler conversation first.

    The most important thing is to just let your kids know when they come home, you still love them. You accept them. They may have changed and picked up new habits. Maybe they gained weight, shaved their head, cut their hair, got a tattoo. Whatever happened, just letting them know that you love and care about them, who they are as they are, is a huge advantage.

    According to the National College Health Assessment, the number one source of stress for college students is academics; many describe their experience and pressures as crushing. Following that, that assessment also identified the number one reason behind academic stress as procrastination. As parents, it’s tempting to intervene, but here we have to let our kids figure it out on their own. They have to figure out why they’re stressed, and why they’re procrastinating, and what they’re going to do about it. And they will.

    We need to remember that parents are here to be a safe space, to provide the support and the encouragement, and sometimes a reminder that, Hey, if you’re not feeling good about the way you’re sleeping or the way you’re eating or the way you’re socializing, whatever, all that you need is just an awareness of it. And willingness to put in the work to change those habits. We’re here to help our kids if they need it, if they ask for it; we can answer questions and direct them to resources—but in the end they have to do the work themselves.

    Just a reminder that when you fail or feel like you’re going the wrong way, all you need to do is acknowledge that, and then do a little course correcting. Starting over is not impossible. It’s a pretty necessary and natural part of every person’s life. And the sooner that kids acknowledge that and discard any shame and judgment about it, the easier their college experience will be.

    Start early. Be realistic. Tell your teen that college is going to be hard (because it will be) and that’s okay. It’s up to them, but that doesn’t mean they’re alone. Help your kid stay healthy in college: encourage them, love them, help them find resources and support networks…help them find a passion, and college can indeed be among some of the best years of their lives.


    Parenting Tips: Ending Procrastination Once And For All | Leslie Josel | Episode 51

    When You Or Your Teenager Are Always Tired | Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith | Episode 148

    Preventing Procrastination in Teens and College Students | Leslie Josel | 160

    Our Guests Jill and David Henry:

    Jill and David Henry discuss how to help teens stay healthy in collegeJill and David Henry met coaching high school sports, and have been working with teens for nearly 15 years. With every graduating class, they’ve fielded their student-athletes’ concerns about the transition to college. Determined to help, the Henrys decided to leverage their combined professional skills in research, data analysis, study design, and storytelling (Jill is a veteran statistics teacher, Dave is a Peabody award-winning TV and film editor) to create a fun yet informative resource to help young adults enjoy college without sacrificing their health. 

    To learn more or connect with our guest visit https://www.greatestcollegehealthguide.com/. 

    From Sandy:

    It’s easier to listen and connect with your teenager when you are calm. Grab Sandy’s complimentary lesson on finding calm at https://sandyfowler.com