Apprehension Adjustment: Helping Your Freshman Fret Less

In my first post I talked about the very, very important topic of anxiety in college students. Once again, as the fall semester is taking off, I’d like to remind you of how important it is to be aware that depression, anxiety, and—most unfortunately—even suicides are growing problems at colleges and universities across America.

That said, my intent isn’t to make every parent who reads my blog panic. The truth is, while stress can escalate to dangerous levels, it’s actually very normal for new college students to feel anxious. After all, college means a lot of big changes! Your student will be leaving the familiar faces and surroundings of high school and getting used to a totally new environment away from his support system. Plus, even if he doesn’t admit it to you, he’s probably at least a little concerned about doing well in his classes. In these kinds of circumstances, jitters are totally understandable.

The best news for us parents is that educating yourself about how you can deal with (and possibly alleviate) your student’s anxiety can make a huge difference in the kind of college experience he has. My own son won’t start college for another two years, but since this topic is close to my heart, I’m already reading up on it and talking to friends who have been there, and I would like to share a few things I’ve learned with you:

  • You can help take the edge off by making a few plans together. Specify when you will see each other next—being able to look forward to a planned visit or two can make the future seem much less intimidating and give everyone something to look forward to. For instance, you can come to your child’s campus for the homecoming football game, and he can come home for fall break. Also, take advantage of technology like Skype and set (and keep) a weekly date.
  • Follow your child’s lead. Yes, it can be difficult for us parents to suppress our instinct to protect and guide our children at all times. However, try to remind yourself that college is the time when your child is supposed to begin coming into her own. So if she’s ecstatic to be leaving home, do your best to swallow your melancholy and be happy with her. On the other hand, if she seems a bit wary of being out by herself, don’t be overly excited about your impending empty-nester freedom or chime in with your own worries. Instead, help her to talk through her anxiety. Lastly, allow her to guide college-to-home communication. Remember that the phone is not supposed to be an umbilical cord, and it’s okay to be a bit disconnected from your teen if that’s what she wants. And if your child prefers email, get on the digital train.
  • Don’t downplay your child’s worries. If your child calls home and says that she is worried or depressed, always talk to her about what could be causing her feelings. Even if you honestly think she might be overreacting, don’t assume that things will work themselves out in a few months. Ask if she’s under a lot of academic pressure. Does she have problems with her roommate? Is she homesick? Remember that adjusting to college is different for everyone: some may take days; some may take months. If your student does not seem to be adjusting at all and has been homesick for weeks, it might be good to suggest that she look for resources through the counseling and wellness department at her school.