Childwise is a medical advice column for parents of children ages birth to 21.
How do you know if your child is adapting to college life and when do you intervene?
By Kathleen Ganster
Starting college is not only stressful for the students, but it is a time of adjustment for their parents as well. Part of the parental stress is knowing that your child will be out there on her own – how do you know she is ready for that big step? What are signals that she may not be adjusting? When do you intervene and what contact/outreach is too much?
Going away to college, even for commuters, is a huge life change, and like every life change, it is normal to be nervous.
“I tell our students, everyone is nervous. They may look calm on the outside, but on the inside, they are nervous,” said Lori Arend, LSW, director of counseling and health services at La Roche College.
Arend works with incoming freshmen and their parents at La Roche and said the parents are nervous as well.
“You are leaving the most precious thing in the world behind,” she said, “For some people that brings great sadness.”
The biggest things parents should remember is to use the resources available to them through their children’s colleges, said Arend.
“We’ve done this before and we have successfully done this, so we know what we are doing and can help you and your child,” she said.
That help may mean reaching out to your child to see how she is doing emotionally and academically.
“The residence life people are your first line of defense. They often know if someone isn’t going to classes or isolating themselves,” she said.
At La Roche, the residence life offices are right across the hall from the counseling offices, so they work very closely together in dealing with student problems.
Parents should always feel comfortable calling either residence life or counseling offices for assistance and resources in helping their children deal with the changes.
“Going to college is a transition, but like every transition, there is an end,” she said.
For students who are incredibly homesick, Arend suggests working in small time increments so that students see an end in sight.
“Maybe you can them to focus on making it to the end of the semester, maybe to the next weekend,” she said.
Parents can help by sending good, old-fashion mail including small gifts and packages, visiting campus if possible to take the child out to dinner and keeping in touch by phone and text messages.
“Our students are always happy to receive mail even if they just talked to their parents,” she said.
Parents should alert college personnel if they feel their child isn’t going to class, is isolating herself, or is showing signs of emotional distress, said Arend.
They should also have contact information for the residence life office, counseling office and other important campus contacts. It may also be helpful to have your child’s roommate’s phone number in case you can’t reach your child for an extended period of time.
Students receive planners and “survival guides” at La Roche College and most other schools have similar tools for new students. Parents can always ask their children to seek resources on their own that may be listed in these guides suggests Arend.
If your child has mental health issues going into college, alert the counseling office so they can help keep an eye on your child.
It is important for parents to know they can not get their children’s grades or know confidential information including what happens at counseling sessions on campus unless the child gives her permission for the parent to know.
“We have a form they can fill out, but they need to fill it out,” said Arend.
At La Roche, faculty members also have “Early Alert Forms” they can complete to alert the counseling office if a student isn’t’ attending classes or showing signs of stress, said Arend.
Of course, a parent can intervene too much.
“It your child tells you to back-off, you need to step back. Sometimes a child needs to fail and succeed on their own,” she said.
Kathleen Ganster is the mother of three children, step-mother of two additional children and a former college administrator. In addition to being a full-time journalist, Ganster is also an adjunct professor.