Things to Consider Along the Way
Don't ask if they're homesick.
The power of association can be a dangerous thing. (A friend once told me "the idea of being homesick didn't even occur to me, what with all the new things that were going on, until my mom called one of the first weekends and asked 'Are you homesick?' Then it hit me.") The first few days/weeks of school are activity-packed and friend-jammed and the challenge of meeting new people and adjusting to new situations takes a majority of a new student's time and concentration. So unless they're reminded of it (by well-meaning parents), they'll probably be able to escape homesickness.
And even if they don't tell you during those first few weeks, they do miss you.
Let your student resolve his own problems, issues, or concerns.
While away at college, your student may face certain challenges that you may feel compelled to solve on his behalf. All students face different challenges, whether they are academic, social or personal. Your natural reaction may be to give advice or try to solve the problem. It is important to remember how much can be learned from such life experiences, and your student will grow a great deal from solving his own problems. However do be available to offer advice, help identify problem-solving methods and be sympathetic.
Ask questions, but be careful how you do so
. Becoming a college student is an adult responsibility, and though you may be concerned for your student’s welfare, it is important to remember that she is taking steps on the path of her own development. Certain questions you ask may be intended to show you care, but may sometimes cause undue stress for your student. For example, it is better to approach your student with interest in her experiences, rather than insist it is your business. College is exciting and different. Your student will want to share what she has discovered and experienced with you, but she also does not want to feel judged.
Write or email.
Most students will be very busy and may not be used to long distance communication. It may be difficult to express what is going on at school in a letter or email. Likewise, they are experiencing the independence that college affords. Try not to misinterpret a lack of responses as rejection. Even if students do not admit it, they often are excited to hear about news from home, family and friends. Getting personal mail is fun and it lets them know that someone cares. An empty mailbox can be very depressing, especially when a roommate or friend gets letters often. Send the local paper, news clippings about local events, goofy cards, pictures of friends and family—anything that will help ease the new separation. On the closing pages of this handbook there is an example of how to address mail to your student to ensure its proper delivery. (Their campus email will be the first two letters of their first name and up to six of their last @dwu.edu. Please encourage them to use this rather than previous addresses.)
Visit (but not too often).
Occasional visits by family members (especially when accompanied by dinner out, small presents or shopping) are another part of the first year experience that students may be reluctant to admit liking, but do appreciate greatly. Visits work best if planned well in advance. Spur of the moment visits may disrupt student plans or social events, creating rather than relieving stress.
College is not always the best years of your student’s life.
Especially during the first year, college can be punctuated by periods of indecision, insecurity, disappointment and mistakes. It is also full of discovery, inspiration, good times and new people. It may take students and families some time to understand that feeling unhappy, afraid, uncomfortable, confused or discouraged are all part of college, part of growing up and a part of life. Not all weekends are activity-packed, not all grades will be good, and not all decisions are wise. Accept and be prepared for the highs and lows of a student’s year, and be able to support and encourage your student throughout this transitional time.
Prepare for the return.
Your student will change. It may be slow; it may be drastic; it may be a mixture of the two, but they will change! It is a natural, inevitable, wonderful, sometimes awkward experience, but it always happens. For example, the average student changes majors three times. Be patient, open to change and ready for your student and who he/she has become. When the school year ends and students return home, be prepared to discuss rules to guide behavior over the holiday breaks and summer. Students will become accustomed to the freedom of college living and may feel constrained by the need to return to their family environment. It is important to understand and respect the new individuality your student has developed but remind your student that there are rules and courtesies that still apply to them.
Ultimately, college is a period of transition, one that relies on the support of many other people. When anxiety mounts or challenges are faced, students often turn home for support. We each experience difficult times when we need other people. The college experience is no exception. It is important to remember as a parent or loved one that the urge to communicate is strongest when things are most difficult. It is typical for your student to find something they dislike about the college experience. It is important for you to support them in understanding these feelings. You may need to be an advice dispenser or simply a sympathetic listener. Overall, be available as needed and be interested in this new journey on which your student has embarked.
For more information and resources about the college transition, visit www.collegeparents.org