Leaving for University: how do I help my teen cope?

Change is challenging. Teenagers can feel like many things in their life are changing at the same time which is very unsettling… their bodies, friendships, moving from school to uni or a first job, their relationship with you. And facing these life transitions can be a great source of anxiety.

So here are some of my tips for how you can make the transition of leaving for Uni easier for your teen…and for you!

Prepare for changes

Make sure to both think through any life transitions that are around the corner for your teen. Envisaging what is going to change will make the transition smoother for them. For example, looking up online about the university course I was going to do and getting all the practical things ready for moving into my new place massively reduced my anxiety and fear of the unknown. You can even make it into a fun activity! Visualising, discussing and getting excited about the change is a good way to distract your teen. Obviously, when they start to actually prepare this may bring up some unexpected emotions and trigger anxious thoughts. So be sympathetic to this, it may be that you have to help them arrange some practical things if this is too overwhelming for them.  

Listen to your teen

Leaving home is going to be an emotional time, whether your teen shows it or not. Listen to them if they want to talk about how the change is affecting them. This can help them to process their feelings and understand their emotions. For example, I found telling someone all the little things that were worrying me about leaving home really useful because these things can often build up. Also, listening makes it easier for you as a parent to understand how you can help. 

Remind them that you will still be there for them.

Knowing that my mum was there to talk to me whenever I felt worry or anxiety gave me that extra confidence. Just because your teen may be further away in terms of distance, doesn’t mean that your relationship has to distance. Not everything has to change when you experience a life transition, in fact, your relationship with your teen can be well maintained by keeping in contact and may even get stronger. 

Talk to them about getting pastoral support 

Make sure you and your teen know about the pastoral services available at university. Perhaps have the support system set up before they go, (GP services and wellbeing services) so that it’s one less thing for them to worry about when they get there. In my experience, it’s important to have something to fall back on if things do deteriorate quickly. There is always going to be someone to reach out to no matter where you are. I suggest only recommending these services to your teen and not setting it up on their behalf unless absolutely necessary. Recognising when they are at risk and who to ring in certain situations is an important part of becoming independent. 

Don’t put pressure on them to settle in straight away

When I started university, I felt pressure to make new friends straight away. But it’s not always easy. And the added expectations from parents can make it even harder to adjust. It’s important not to put pressure on them to have everything sorted straight away. They may feel anxious or particularly low if they are missing their old friends or being back at home. Everything takes time, they may not settle in immediately. 

Don’t project your own anxieties and worries onto your teen

It can be a really emotional time when big changes happen, but try not to project your own stress onto your teen. Leading up to the transition, make sure to do things for yourself to reduce your own stress, plan time for yourself to relax or plan activities to do with your teen before they leave home. 

Encourage your teen to talk to someone who is already in university

I found that speaking with my cousin, who had just gone to university the year before really helped me realise that it wasn’t that scary at all and there were so many benefits of moving out that I hadn’t thought about. Having someone speak from personal experience can really reassure your teen, especially if it is someone close in age to them because it’s more relatable. 

Will my self-harming teen be OK at University?

It is important to keep up communication with your self-harming teen when they leave home. Carry on checking in on them, talking like you would do at home, but through the phone (or facetime or texting). Make sure they know that it is ok if they change their mind about moving out if they aren’t coping with the transition. 

It’s normal for you to worry that your self-harming teen may not settle in well away from home and that their self-harm may become worse. But on the other hand, you don’t want to tie them down or stifle their independence. Let them take this exciting new step if they want to do so. You may think that you’re protecting your child by keeping them close to you but instead, you’re underestimating the excitement and positive impact of this new stage of their life. University can be a place where your teen (with the right support system) gets into a routine that suits them better and where they really thrive. 


SIGN-UP FOR OUR FREE ONLINE COURSE where we coach you to play a key role supporting your child’s healing & recovery; their journey back to health and happiness: www.youthmentalhealthfoundation.org/onlinecourse 

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE BOOKLET and learn how a mother led her self-harming teenage child back to health & happiness: www.YouthMentalHealthFoundation.org/e-boo



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