Anxious Parenting Series Week 6 - Preparing Your High Schooler for College: Is My Anxious Teen Ready?

Is my teen actually ready for college?

College is a big step for anyone, and especially for teens who have struggled emotionally throughout high school. Big transitions are difficult for anyone. And while your teen may be excited about this new adventure, you as a parent may be experiencing conflicting emotions.

On the one hand, you’re ready for them to succeed.

On the other, you worry that you haven’t done enough to prepare them.

We’re on week 6 of our anxious parenting series, with a topic near and dear to me heart - preparing for the college transition. Here’s our other fabulous posts:

  1. The Building Blocks of Anxiety

  2. Managing Your Own Anxiety as a Parent

  3. Parenting Anxious Pre-Schoolers and Elementary Schoolers

  4. Anxiety and Parenting a Child with Anger Management Issues

  5. Perfectionism and Parenting Your High Schooler

  6. Preparing Your High Schooler for College: Is My Anxious Teen Ready?

  7. Out of the Nest: How to Parent Your Anxiety-Driven College Student

  8. Moving Forward and Next Steps

Mental Maturity and Emotional Readiness: How to Tell If Your Student is Ready for College

There are two big components to keep in mind when we’re looking at your teen’s readiness for college. We need to look at their mental maturity and their emotional readiness.

Mental maturity:

Is your teen prepared to examine cause and effect? Do they demonstrate good stop and think skills? Can they curb their impulsivity and demonstrate good decision making?

One of the highlights of college is how it allows your teen to become a more responsible adult. Outside of your direct influence every day, thousands of events occur every day that your teen gets to be in charge of.

This can be the anxiety-provoking part of it, too.

Some teens become overwhelmed by the amount of choices they have to make, along with experiencing overwhelm at the fact that college is not nearly as regimented as high school.

Emotional readiness:

Emotional readiness all comes down to how your teen handles stressors, and how they cope with these stressors.

A lot of times parents will talk to me about their child’s emotional maturity, meaning they’re concerned their child is acting way too young for their age, and while emotional maturity can point to emotional readiness, it’s a little bit different.

What is emotional readiness?

Emotional readiness means you are ready to handle whatever is coming up next. Your coping skills are at the ready, and stressors feel manageable to you.

Emotional maturity is how mature or immature your teen presents. The reason I’m often not as concerned about this is that teens present differently to their parents than they do to their peers, or to their teachers. While your teen may be acting immature with you, or with their friends, they may still possess emotional readiness. It’s a much better barometer of college readiness.

A teenager can absolutely be “emotionally immature” while still demonstrating emotional readiness. It’s less your teen’s maturity and more about how they handle whatever comes their way.

So rather than just focusing on how mature or immature your highschool senior comes across, really dig in and assess how they handle stressors.

  • When they have 10 assignments due, and suddenly the computer breaks, do they shut down or do they solve the problem?

  • If they get a B on an assignment they expected to do better on, do they have an anxiety spiral, or do they just move on?

  • When stressors build up, can they handle it and utilize healthy coping skills, or do they wear themselves out without focusing on their mental and emotional health? Are they able to prioritize their wellbeing while still getting stuff done?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and College:

CBT is the type of individual therapy I provide. It stands for Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, and it focuses on how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors all impact one another. I highly recommend CBT, along with relaxation skills building, for students entering college.

In CBT, we take a step back and examine thoughts, figuring out if they’re helpful or unhelpful. And through building relaxation skills, we increase your teen’s emotional readiness, helping to prepare them on an emotional level for college.

When you can break down what’s going on into these three components, you can figure out how to better handle what’s coming your way.

The Cognitive Triangle:

cognitive triangle.png

Let’s imagine your teen walks into a classroom, and everyone goes silent. Their brain might jump to the thought, “I’ve done something wrong!” This might make them feel anxious. And then their behavior might be to leave the classroom, to just turn around and avoid whatever this is.

But, what if they told themselves something different? What if, instead of saying to themselves that they did something wrong, they said, “Oh weird, everyone went quiet. I wonder if class is starting soon.” Rather than anxious, they might just feel curious. And rather than leaving, they sit and prepare.

See, what happens doesn’t make us feel nervous or mad or sad. What we tell ourselves about what happens determines how we feel and how we react.

College Preparedness and CBT:

If your teen can recognize their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and work on changing their reactions, they’re probably going to be fine in college.

But if you have concerns about their ability to recognize helpful and unhelpful thoughts, or you know how quickly their anxiety can spike to overwhelming levels, it may be good to consider counseling before they leave for college. And if they leave for college, and they start to notice that things are feeling less and less manageable, it’s always an option to start counseling while in college. Every college has a counseling department for a reason. Colleges and universities recognize that the level of stress and newness can be overwhelming.

Your teen is academically ready. They’ve worked hard and have gotten the grades and the test scores they needed.

Let’s make sure they’re emotionally ready as well.


Last week we asked a multi level question: If my child doesn’t learn tools for anxiety management, what does my brain tell me is the worst case scenario? How likely is this to occur?How can I help guide them and prevent this What percentage am I in charge? What’s the first step that I can take today?

This week, if you are or if you have a high school junior or senior, just ask yourself:

  1. How ready is my child for college?

I’ll see you next week!

Curious to hear more? Reach out to me at As a child and adolescent anxiety specialist, I work with kids, teens, college students and parents to help manage their anxiety, stress, and anger. Compassionate Counseling St. Louis is located in Clayton, MO and works with families throughout Creve Couer, Ballwin, Town and Country, Brentwood, and Ladue. You can set up your first free consult on this very website, on our consultation page.