The summer between high school graduation and freshman year of college is cause for excitement and a feeling of pride. There are many celebratory events to attend and possibly even a college orientation.
While it is a milestone that is filled with enthusiasm, it can also take a toll on the student’s mental well-being especially if they are going away to school later that summer.
Leaving home for the first time requires students to take on added responsibilities and make decisions for themselves. While the thought of moving away might excite them, sharing a room with a stranger or even a friend or acquaintance will bring about an array of challenges that they will need to learn to resolve.
Sharing a bathroom with family members is nothing compared to sharing it with a bigger group of strangers.
Maybe the student has relied on siblings or parents as a backup to their morning alarm clock to ensure that they make it to school on time all these years, now they are on their own and might have to avoid the snooze button if they want to make it on time and not miss a class. Let’s hope that they have met a classmate and have exchanged contact information just in case.
Of course, this would require them to branch out of their comfort zone and meet new people which can be very overwhelming for some youth.
Another challenge that students face is making ends meet and living within a budget. There are so many social activities and delicious food places that can be enticing. However, money can only go so far! Newfound freedom can be very enjoyable for seventeen and eighteen-year-olds leaving home for the first time, but it can also put them in sticky situations.
So, what can parents do to help their rising college students and ease some of their anxiety and stress before seeing them off for the first time?
- Encourage them along the way reassuring them that they are not alone. Provide emotional support for them and let them tell you about their concerns. Validate what they are feeling. Listen to them without judgment.
- Watch for signs of stress and discuss with them and if needed with a health care professional. Some signs can be problems sleeping, change in appetite or mood, headaches. Take advantage of telehealth visits if your student needs to continue with care while away.
- Join parent groups associated with their school on social media. It is a great way to have questions answered, share insight, and connect with others that might be from your home state, your child’s major, or just the school in general. Encourage your student to look for student groups on social media to meet new people.
- Spend valuable time with them, enjoy nature, explore the outdoors. Find ways to relieve stress. It will give them ideas of what to do when they are away.
- Take a trip to campus before having to move in. Walk around and see where their dorm and first-semester classes will be. Alert them to resources their campus has including bus lines, mental health counseling, and academic tutoring.
- Stay connected. Let them know you are just a phone call, video call, or text message away. When school starts, drop them a note every now and then. Students love to receive care packages and greeting cards unexpectedly. Let them know you are thinking of them and that they are still part of the family even if they are away.
- Hug your child and brace yourself. Don’t forget to acknowledge how you feel during this time and take care of yourself as well! Good luck.
Veronica Aranda, is a community health educator with the University of Illinois Extension in Cook County