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Preparing for university: a parent's guide

starting university teens

If your child is off to university, other further education or training where they have to live away from home, here are some practical tips to prepare them.

Money tips: every penny counts

Your child should already have a bank account, not least because they need somewhere for their student loan to be paid into.

Most high street banks have mobile phone apps that let users check their balance, transfer money and get updates on outgoings so your child can keep a close eye on their finances and learn how much it costs to support themselves as they go. Many also offer student accounts that come with perks, such as a tax-free overdraft or discounts on rail travel.

There are lots of websites that help young people find the most effective ways to budget and offer information on important things to consider when spending at university, including this handy section on the UCAS site.

As for the student loan itself, this guide by explains everything parents and students should know. Including how and when you’re required to pay it back and how much interest is added to your repayments.

The bare necessities

New students usually live in halls of residence during their first year. Even if they are in a shared house, you may still be able to add them to your home contents insurance for an extra fee. Let them know if any special terms apply, such as remembering to lock their door in halls if they are going anywhere, even to the loo! Failing to comply may mean they can’t claim.

Even if your child streams all their favourite shows online on a laptop or tablet, they now need a TV licence if they plan to watch live TV on BBC iPlayer. The exception is if they only watch catch up TV on a device that is not plugged into the mains at the time. This applies even if they are in halls.

Students sharing a house or flat will only need one licence to cover all the TVs and devices in the property, so the cost can be split between everyone living there, and can be paid either in monthly instalments online, or in one lump sum.

Health is wealth

As well as useful recipe sites online, there are some great apps that can help novice cooks learn to feed themselves with nutritionally balanced meals. Mealboard, for example, puts together meal ideas based on what ingredients are already in their fridge so they won’t be stuck for what to cook.

To get ahead of the winter cold or the dreaded fresher’s flu, remind them to register with their local GP or campus surgery during freshers’ week. They will usually have a stand at the fayre and they can register in minutes. The university should also offer free meningitis vaccinations for students if they haven’t had it already.

Keeping up with the kids

With everything from WhatsApp to Facebook to Skype in our hands, it’s tempting to send a quick emoji to remind your child to do their laundry once a week, or ask them to give you a virtual tour of their new flat on video chat when you’re missing them.

Dr Dmitrios Paschos, a consultant psychiatrist, suggests discussing how often your child would like to be contacted before they go, and even organising a schedule for calls.

And if they do take a while to contact you, don’t take it personally. They’re probably socialising with friends, studying or, more likely, sleeping!

If you are worried that your child is unhappy, most universities will not talk to parents who approach them as they will see their students as adults who have a right to privacy. If you have genuine concerns, you should talk to your child and suggest they contact student services who will have counsellors they can confide in.

The birds, the bees and the beers

It may be embarrassing for them as well as you, but explain to them the risks of unprotected sex and the importance of consent, if you haven’t already.  Most universities provide free contraception to students, especially during fresher’s week, along with free information and support.

You may well know from your own experience as a student that excessive drinking and drug use are common at university and it’s important to talk to your child about both and explain about making sensible and safe choices.

Encourage them to download the Drink Aware app, which calculates how many units of alcohol they’ve consumed so they can keep tabs on themselves. There are many organisations providing online advice for young people thinking of experimenting with dangerous or illegal substances, such as Frank  and Mentor UK, while many universities have their own online drug and alcohol support services.

The empty nest

The house might feel bigger and quieter once they leave for university and it’s natural to miss them.

Psychotherapist Renee van der Vloodt, advises: ‘It is worth acknowledging the pain of the empty nest syndrome, without necessarily drowning in the discomfort of it. Every major life transition comes with its own emotional profile and of course, seeing our children off into the wide world is a mega event. Most parents will have selflessly invested nearly two decades of love and daily attention into their offspring, and then from one day to the next they leave the house empty and silent.

‘Resist the temptation to speak to your child more often than they need to’

‘Have some clear intentions for the first few painful months and then the next 6 months and so on. It helps resist the temptation to speak to your child more often than they need to.

‘Make plans to visit them to see how their life is unfolding and meet their friends. Generous real-time is very important for both of you, particularly in the early days.’

New boundaries

Donatella Maschio, a psychotherapist at Priory Wellbeing Centre Oxford says: ‘The use of social media can provide a useful way of communicating, however it could be seductive to spend time watching our children from afar to soothe our anxiety or to jump to conclusions and make assumptions on their wellbeing because we feel that they might not be coping. Even to comment on some of their posts [risks you] becoming an intrusive parent rather than a supportive one.’

If you come across a photo of them on social media tagged by a friend where they’re drunk or in the presence of drugs, have a mature conversation with them about it when you are calm.

Further reading

For you

How to say goodbye when your child leaves home

Preparing for university: advice for parents

For your child

University guide: what every child should know

Freshers: what to expect in your first university term

By Parent Zone’s Yusuf Tamanna

The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or NCA-CEOP.

Updated: May 2018

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