When college begins, your teen will be on their own for the first time. Will they know how to handle challenges, stand up for themselves and seek help when you're not right there to guide them? 

Consider this your cheat sheet for teaching your teen to navigate their newfound freedom and use the support network available to them.

Learning to leave the comfort zone

If your teen is on the shy side, it’s a good idea to let them practice being more self-reliant before college begins. Stop making appointments on their behalf, for example. Encourage a part-time job over the summer that might get them comfortable working with the public. You want to ensure that your teen will take some initiative when necessary, and practicing speaking for themselves in social situations or business transactions is the first step.

Fitting in on campus

Friends can be a big help when it comes to navigating problems and having the confidence to speak up. Encourage your teen to take part in orientation weekends and other new student programs so they can start making friends before the semester begins. Reaching out to their roommate in advance may also help. Some schools even have Facebook groups specifically set up for incoming freshmen to connect with each other.

Relying on campus support

Whether it’s roommate trouble, an academic challenge, a health issue or a tuition billing problem, there’s likely an office or point person that your teen can turn to for assistance. The question is: are they aware that these campus resources exist and will they take advantage? To ensure that your student never feels alone, take time during a campus visit to explore these various offices and meet with key people. Then, in the weeks before they head out, talk about what their options are in a variety of scenarios.

For instance, if they’re struggling with a particular course, they can speak with the professor during office hours or look into peer tutoring, while a roommate issue can usually be worked out by talking to the resident adviser.

The school will likely provide your child with a list of resources and contact information, but if you don’t receive one, it might be worth compiling your own. That way, your child will have a guide that they can turn to anytime they need assistance. You may also want your own copy so you can suggest the appropriate resources if your child asks for help.

Keeping communications open

Of course, you want your child to turn to you when he or she needs advice. The best way to encourage them to do that is to make it known that you’re available — without hovering. When they do call, make the time to listen and try not to be overly judgmental or ask too many probing questions. Also, try to refrain from constant texting or calling. Setting up a regular check-in by phone or video chat that you’re both comfortable with will take the pressure off of both of you.

Part of being independent is being able to fend for yourself and speak up when you have to. By cultivating these skills in your teen before they head off to campus, you’ll help them start their college career with confidence.