Featured Doc Blog: 12 Things Every Parent Should Do for Their College-Bound Kids (Part 1)

As you can imagine, Dr. Mark Thomas in our Focus-MD Tuscaloosa office has a lot of experience helping college students. In this two-part blog, he discusses things that parents can do to make the transition to college easier. 

I have been treating college-aged young persons with ADHD for over twenty years. In that time, I have witnessed numerous students struggle with getting away from the support structure in place for them at home and adjusting to the new demands of college life and independence. Many of the things that I have observed providing them difficulties could be greatly helped when parents know what things are most beneficial for them to do and what things they should avoid.

Things parents should know and do for their college-bound daughters and sons –

  1. Know that each student is individual in their needs and level of development of executive functioning skills
    1. Some students will need more assistance from home than others.
    2. Parents need to balance between becoming a “helicopter parent” versus having a student who suffers without the support system to which they are accustomed.
    3. Almost all students with ADHD will have some Executive Functioning Deficits that will pose challenges for them when entering college life. Some of these executive functioning areas that are difficult for these younger persons include:
      • schedule planning and time management
      • keeping up with needed personal items
      • physical organizational skills
      • prioritizing use of time and money, and connecting the dots between their personal choices and consequences
      • keeping a long-term view and making decisions that are best for their future
      • monitoring their own performance and making needed corrections in personal habits
      • avoiding impulsive choices and emotional over-reaction
  2. Discuss with them setting up a weekly schedule using either a paper or electronic planner
    1. Many students are so accustomed to close support of parents and teachers that they do not have experience in organizing time for themselves.
    2. Stress the importance of not skipping classes, even when attendance is not required.
    3. Instruct them to set aside adequate time in the schedule for regular studying (not just before a test is imminent.)
    4. Break big projects and assignments in smaller steps to avoid becoming overwhelmed.
  3. Teach them how to manage money wisely through planning and budgeting
    1. Have them get accustomed to paying for their own expenses on a weekly or monthly allowance before they go away
    2. If they have the maturity to manage a credit card, teach them to use it wisely. Make it clear what expenses you expect them to pay with the card
    3. Consider a low-limit credit card in their name with a parent as co-signer that they are responsible for paying. (This will not only give them experience but also help build their credit score.
  4. Give guidance about meal planning and nutrition
    1. Discuss with them the importance of proper nutrition for best performance cognitively, emotionally, and physically. (Protein in the morning is a must!)
    2. Develop habits of not skipping meals, especially breakfast! Eating a hearty breakfast helps to reduce any side effects of stimulants medication such as diminished appetite and upset stomach.
    3. If they have difficulty remembering to eat, have them set an alarm on phone or wearable electronic device to remind themselves.
    4. Often freshmen will live on-campus and rely upon the cafeteria for most meals, but will still need to know about planning and preparing their own meals
    5. Teach them how to shop for groceries wisely
    6. Give them experience in fixing meals at home with simple recipes low in time and ingredients needed.
  5. Make sure students have safe transportation
    1. Bad News: Untreated ADHD increases risk of young adult driver becoming involved in a motor vehicle collision by 300-400%.
    2. Good News: Studies have shown that optimized medical treatment may reduce this risk by up to 50%
    3. If the student will have a car, make sure they know to drive only when medication is in effect.
    4. Discuss who is safe for them to ride with and when they should use alternate means of transportation
    5. Do not assume they know better than to drive after drinking (even a little) or to ride with someone who has had any alcohol or other substances that could impair driving!
    6. In urban environments, students need to be familiar with accessing public transportation.

In the second part of this series, Dr. Thomas will share insight on how to help manage the student’s healthcare while he or she is away at college.