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What changes can I expect and how can I help?

College can be a stressful time for students as they transition into a new level of daily responsibility for their lives. They can get overwhelmed having to schedule time for classes, homework, and domestic chores, learning to live with a roommate, managing finances, dealing with people from different cultures and viewpoints, and building friendships and romantic relationships. With no one looking over their shoulder or reminding them of what they “ought or ought not” do, students may experience a new found freedom and relief on one hand, and be overwhelmed with a feeling of unorganized chaos on the other. Many are confronted with stress and some have moments wondering if they can handle it. This is normal!

As a supportive parent, you can provide the steadiness they need by listening to their concerns while encouraging them to work through their own problems. You can help them sort through their thoughts and emotions so they can make good decisions. Be an advisor, (when they ask) but respect their new decision making responsibilities. As a parent, sometimes this is difficult. You are highly invested in this endeavor! You may worry that if you don’t handle whatever is going on, no one will. Actually, it is often the case that when parents step back, the student will begin to assume more responsibility. Until such time, it is easy for them to ignore problems, knowing that you’re doing the worrying for them.

Write your student cards and letters. Send packages. They love it. Be okay with it if they don’t write back. The first few months are especially busy for students as they are making new friends and adjusting to the rigorous demands that college places on them. Your student will certainly be happy to get a letter in his or her mailbox catching him up on what’s going on at home and letting him/her know they’re missed.

The first few visits home can be challenging for parents and students alike. While your student has been immersed in a completely new culture, other family members have continued to live in their established style, with the same rules and expectations. Don’t be surprised about “curfew confusion.” This is often a source of struggle for families. They have been living away from home with no assigned time to return at night. While each family situation is different, don’t let a battle ensue that ruins the visit. Instead, talk openly and honestly with your student to arrive at an understanding and compromise that honors everyone. When students understand your worry and inability to sleep when they remain out late, they most often will respect your reasonable requests. Establish a game plan together!

Academics and expectations in college are quite different from high school. Many straight A and talented students now find themselves in a pool of people who are also high achievers. Encourage them not to compare themselves with others, but to be the very best that they can be. If grades slip a little first semester, remind your student that the campus has many resources available to and designed intentionally for them to use. They are not alone. The members of the university team want them to succeed.