Empty Nest Syndrome: How to Handle Your Teen Going Off to College

off to college

Guest Writer: Andres Duran, LMHC

It’s summer! And with summer comes graduations.  That time of the year where you are invited to BBQs and parties to celebrate a lucky teen’s first steps into emerging adulthood.  A nebulous time where we see numerous teens take their first steps into the world of full-time work and college.  For many, it is the first time they are free of parental supervision.  This is often a great source of distress for many parents.  You’ve spent 18 years feeding, clothing, protecting, and guiding this growing human being and now you are being asked to release them out into the world.  Of course it’s anxiety provoking!  So how do you navigate this confusing process?

 The first thing I recommend is for parents to remember not to burden their children with their grief or distress.  Often times your child is excited about this transition and you do not want your child to feel guilty or like they need to take care of you.  At this stage of your child’s development the goal is for your kid to leave the nest and fly while at the same time knowing they can always come home if they need you.  In essence, you are giving your child wings while allowing them to still have roots.

 Okay…don’t burden my kid with my anxieties…but what do I DO with this anxiety?  This is a highly individual process but something that I find to be helpful for many parents is to find someone that you can talk to about these worries.  That could be your partner, friends, siblings, or even a therapist.  The point is to find someone to share these feelings with and process how this change in your family is affecting you.  The other thing that I often recommend is to find something to focus your attention on.  Maybe that’s turning your kids room into the exercise studio that you’ve always dreamed of, taking up a new hobby, or even going back to school yourself.  Find something you’re interested in to put this newly acquired energy into.

Give your kid space.  This is there time to experiment with adulthood and find out who they are going to be as a grownup.  I’m not suggesting you absolve yourself of all parental responsibility but I am suggesting you give your kid room to soar.  So don’t text, call, or email them everyday and place a general twice a week limit on yourself.

Leaving the nest can be scary for both parent and child but it can also be an exciting new chapter.  It’s a time where you get to shift more attention onto yourself and develop an adult relationship with your child.  In many ways it’s a new beginning and you get to define what kind of beginning it will be for you and your child.

Check back for part two of this series:  When children who have left the nest come back.

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