Starting college can be a tough process, not just for students but also for parents. Maybe the thought of sending your teenaged son or daughter off to school–possibly hundreds of miles from home–has you breathing into a brown paper bag! If that’s the case, here are a few things to keep in mind that can help make this a good experience.

Stay positive

You are not alone in this. This may be small comfort, but across the country, thousands of other parents are also sending their children off to college, as have thousands of others in the past. Lots of families have done this successfully, and their kids end up thriving in college!

Unfortunately, there are also lots of horror stories out there about what can happen on a college campus–from a loss of faith to a drug overdose. And these kinds of tales can create fear and uncertainty about what this experience might mean for your child.

First, remember that bad things can happen anywhere; it’s simply a fact of the sin-broken world that we live in. That said, in my experience as a student, I found the religious college I attended to be a very safe place, both spiritually and physically.

Sending a student off to a secular university? Look into connecting them with campus ministries and a great local church. If possible, have him or her talk with others who’ve already gone through the process successfully.  Encourage your child to connect to mature adults who can mentor him or her while at university.

It’s also great for students to stay connected with positive influencers from home, such as a high school teacher, a pastor or spiritual advisor, or a family member.

Second, there are so many wonderful things for your child to experience during his or her college years. You may find yourself tempted to ask a lot of negative “what ifs?”– like ”What if he has an accident while driving in the city?” Instead, focus on the positive “what ifs!”

  • “What if she makes lifelong friends?”
  • “What if he becomes passionate about service?”
  • “What if” your child finds a calling?
  • “What if” they fall in love with learning?
  • “What if” they gain a heart for helping others?

Be encouraged because these are all highly possible outcomes!

So, if you find yourself asking “what if,” try making the question a positive one. It might bolster you and your student’s excitement about the new step that she’s getting ready to take.

Support (don’t suffocate)

College is an important time of growth and maturation for many young adults, a rite of passage. Your child will most likely go through some “growing pains” as they adjust to this new experience. They’ll need to make new friends, figure out how to navigate campus and an unfamiliar city, and learn the ins and outs of college academics. There will probably be a few teary phone calls along the way.

However, this is a chance for parents/guardians to provide loving support and encouragement while still allowing students room to figure some things out on their own. Gaining a sense of responsibility and independence is an important step for maturing into healthy, self-reliant adults.

Tell your daughter: “We love and miss you, but we are confident that you can do this!” Let your son know: “Hey, I get that this is tough, but I believe in you. You can make it!” Tell them how proud you are of them. Let them know you’re praying for them. If they ask your advice, try to help them come up with healthy solutions for coping (like looking for another lonely student on campus and befriending them).

Encourage them to take advantage of the resources available to them on campus. Most campuses have a lot of support services, such as the library, academic or professional counseling, the residential deans, staff, faculty, and other students. These people are there to help guide freshmen through the college experience. If you can and want to help your child financially, go for it!

This transitional time is not about making students figure everything out on their own immediately. It is a process after all! Rather, it’s about giving them space to start growing the independence, self-motivation, and other skills that they will need for successful adulthood.

Let me use my own parents as an example here. When I was in college (500 miles from home), my parents and I didn’t talk on the phone every day. But I knew that I could call them anytime I needed to. They didn’t fund my education, but I was assured they had my back if I got into a tough place (like lending me money for unexpected car repair bills).

My parents didn’t puff me up with continuous praise, but they never questioned my ability to make it–academically, spiritually or socially. If I complained about struggling in a class, they listened to me empathetically. But they never hinted that dropping out of college would be a good solution to my short-term problem. And they didn’t intervene on my behalf. In short, they communicated their loving support in a variety of ways, while leaving me plenty of room to learn to problem-solve while maturing into adulthood. This leads to my next point…

Trust God

I’m not a parent yet, so I can only imagine the fear or uncertainty that might accompany a step like this. “Did I do enough?” “Is my child ready to take this step?” “Will he make good, wise decisions?” These are all normal questions to ask that flow out parents’ love and concern for their children.

But, as you send your son or daughter off to college, remember that they are going in the perfect care and keeping of their loving Creator. Will your child always do everything 100% right or just the way you would like them to do it? Probably not, because they’re human. (Also, think back to your own experiences around age 18-22. Your parents once had to allow you to start making decisions too). This is a chance to demonstrate your confidence, both in God and in your child!

Pray for your college student. Encourage them in their walk with the Lord. Model faithful living for them. Love them consistently. In it all, trust that our Heavenly Father can guide, guard, and keep you and your child. Read Romans 8 for some great encouragement! God is working all things together for the good of those who love him (v. 28).

Absolutely nothing can separate us from his love (vv. 38-39). This true not only for you but also for your college-bound child! What an awesome promise of God’s faithfulness.