Transitioning your Teen to College
It’s a proud moment as a parent when your child leaves home for college, but it’s also an emotional one for both of you. Your parental role shifts from primary caretaker to proud supporter, at the exact same time that your child is facing new challenges.
The first year of college can be a struggle for a lot of college freshmen according to Your First College Year (YFCY), an annual survey on the academic and personal development of first-year college students developed by the Higher Education Research Institute. Approximately a quarter (25%) of students drop out of college after their first year. To help you and your student successfully navigate the first year of college, today’s blog looks at the most common problems freshmen face and how parents should respond:
If your freshman feels lonely, they are not alone! According to the YFCY study, 66% of first-year students report feeling lonely or homesick. It’s perfectly normal to feel lonely when you move to a new environment. Here’s what parents can do:
- Try not to have expectations. We might assume that a child with great social skills will thrive in college, but not necessarily. Students who had a strong social network at home might struggle more because they are frustrated that they have to start out all over. They may miss the comfort of their high school relationships. On the other hand, students that seemed to struggle finding high school friends may connect early with like-minded peers. You can’t predict whether your teen will feel lonely or be homesick, so don’t anticipate a problem.
- Encourage involvement. The best way for your teen to make friends is to get involved in college activities. Before your teen goes to school, talk about finding activities they can jump into to meet like-minded people. Review the college’s website to see what campus clubs, intramural teams, and organizations are available. Encourage them to join or start a study group for one or more of their classes. Suggest they join an exercise class at the school’s gym. If they push themselves to participate in activities, even if they feel awkward, they will assimilate quicker. They must take steps to start meeting new people!
- Avoid trying to “fix” it. While it can be heartbreaking to hear your child talk about missing home, you should not encourage them to visit home right away. This will only prevent them from connecting with college peers on the weekends. Wait to see if these feelings are ongoing or just come and go as your student adjusts to life away from home before you attempt to address the situation.
- Validate their feelings. Listening to your child express their emotions and reminding them that their feelings are completely normal is the best thing you can do. Many times, students just unload their unhappy thoughts and feelings on you because you are a safe person. Then, the next minute, they’re rushing off to dinner with their dorm mates without a care in the world. Be a safe place to share their worries, let them know their feelings are normal, and encourage them to get involved to meet new people. If you notice that your child is comparing their own college experience to those they see on social media, remind them that they are comparing their worst to everyone else’s best. People don’t post that they are feeling lonely; they only post their highlight reel.
Living with others can be challenging, so it’s no surprise that many students struggle with roommate problems. Whether it’s learning to share a small space with a total stranger or the two students have very different habits, college freshmen can find roommates to be a source of stress in their first year.
As a parent, the best thing you can do is encourage your teen to work with their new roommate to set up rules for the room (and/or suite) that everyone can agree on at the beginning of the year before problems arise. Tell your teen to ask their roommate to have a frank conversation with them about both of their expectations. They might even want to consider writing a contract. While these conversations often feel awkward, they will eliminate a lot of future problems and offer the students a reference point when difficulties arise.
Always encourage your teen to work through roommate conflicts with good communication. Remind your teen that they do not have to be best friends with their roommate, they just need to have mutual respect for each other. However, if the roommate is a bully or your teen feels unsafe, tell your teen to let college representatives know right away. They should start by talking to their Resident Advisor (RA), and if the problem is not resolved, they should speak to the college’s guidance administration.
In college, students only spend about 15 hours per week in class. That leaves your teen with a lot of free time! The problem is that college requires a lot of work outside the classroom – reading, studying, completing homework, and writing papers. Unfortunately, too much free time can lead students to procrastinate, thinking they have plenty of time only to realize later they didn’t leave enough time to complete their work.
Parents should ideally instill good time management skills in their teen before they head off to college. But regardless of how strong their time management is when they arrive at college, you can coach them through improving this skill. Encourage your teen to establish study hours. If they set aside a certain time each day devoted to studying, they will be able to complete their work at a reasonable pace and still have time for fun activities. Also suggest your teen break down big projects into smaller, more manageable pieces and schedule their own deadlines for these on a calendar. Looking at a long list of reading assignments, papers that are due and lab work that needs to be completed can be overwhelming. If you help them to break their work down, they can work on it over time. Hopefully this will prevent them from waiting until the last minute and trying to pull an all-nighter!
Many college freshmen are not able to maintain the same grade level that they did in high school. This can be due to a number of reasons, ranging from not spending enough time studying to not being prepared for the rigorous course work. Some students feel afraid they will not meet your expectations for academic performance which causes more stress.
When your student is choosing classes, advise them to not overload their schedule in their first semester. They need an opportunity to adapt to their new environment. If their grades are not what they want, remind them that colleges offer a lot of resources. Encourage them to form a study group with other students, reach out to a tutor on campus, or ask their professors for advice. Most professors are excited to meet students one-on-one and are very helpful.
Although your teen will be facing a lot of challenges as they embark on their college career, this is absolutely not the time to try to solve their problems for them. Your role has shifted from supervisor to coach, and you should offer your child a willing ear, an encouraging word, and lots of advice, but you should not get directly involved. For example, if a conversation needs to be had with a professor about your child’s academics, the only people in that conversation should be the professor and your child. The best thing a parent can do for a college freshman is to allow them to solve their own problems and remind them that you believe in them!