Understanding Your College Student

The journey from adolescence into adulthood via college or university can be marked with both excitement and disquietude. Academic challenges will be intertwined with social interactions and the experience of integrating with a new and possibly strange environment. This may be your child’s first experience in living away from home and sharing a bedroom and bath with others. He will be confronted with issues about money management, time management, sexuality, health care and conflict resolution. The college years are about emotional maturation and effective decision making as much as academic success.

So where do parents fit into the transition? You may find that you will have your own set of challenges, learning to walk the fine line between maintaining your role and authority as a parent, offering guidance and wisdom, while allowing your child important opportunities to make mistakes. Richard Kadison in The College of Overwhelmed terms this “letting go with confidence.” You may observe your college student demonstrating more reliance on friends and even distancing herself from parents as she individuates. Be assured, however, that your influence is important. Indeed, specialists in late adolescent development agree that a strong connection to family provides the foundation for the college student to cope with difficulties and make healthy decisions.

As your child begins to learn new skills for college success, you too can build skills to aid the adjustment.

  • Adopt a new communication style. Instead of communicating to instruct or tell your child what to do, encourage conversation to strengthen your connections.
  • Actively listen. The parent/child relationship may have prompted you to immediately respond to your child with lecturing or judgement. As you build this precious new relationship, allow your child to completely express concerns and joys, absent your value-laden response. Let your child know that he does not have to protect you from his problems. He will be more likely to turn to you for guidance when you convey unconditional acceptance through your active listening.
  • Communicate on a regular basis. Email, text-messaging, and cell phones provide ample opportunity for families to connect. Initially, the freshman may use these avenues often to seek reassurance as he navigates the new waters. Don’t be surprised, however, when he contacts you less as he feels more confident. Recognize that your new college student will set the pace for communication, but encourage regular consistent contact, such as a weekly Sunday telephone call.
  • Maintain strong family connections. Family rituals and traditions have grounded the child from infancy, and they are equally as important for the young adult.Encourage social interaction. Building a network of friends and acquaintances will facilitate the adjustment process as well as enhance the student’s co-curricular education.
  • Promote the opportunity for problem solving. Growth and maturation involves learning essential conflict resolution, decision making, and problem solving skills. When your child faces obstacles, your first response is to come to his rescue by either offering solutions or making telephone calls to roommates, RAs or administrators. Initiating calls, contacts, or complaints robs your child the valuable opportunity to practice self care.
  • Be aware of signs for distress. You know your child better than anyone. If you notice symptoms of depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, sleep disorder, or anxiety, make yourself and your child aware of services offered to mitigate.
  • Counseling Services, located in 310 Keeny Hall offers free and confidential assistance in study skill building, career decision making, and personal/crisis counseling. Licensed professional counselors, interns, and a psychologist provide the quality counseling and group activities to all enrolled Louisiana Tech students. Counselors encourage students to schedule their own appointments. However, the parent concerned about a child’s emotional well being is invited to phone Counseling Services to gather information about the scope of services, or consult with a counselor to determine the best course for intervention.
  • As your child begins this journey of college life, be aware that your nervousness and concern are normal. Letting go with confidence may not be easy, but finding a balance between fostering independence and providing a foundation for support can ease the transition for both you and your child. Offer encouragement, actively listen, learn university resources and sensitively suggest them when issues arise. Remain actively involved with your new college student while standing back a few steps and allowing important growth and development.

Useful resources:

Kadison, R. (2004). College of the Overwhelmed: The college mental health crisis and what to do about it. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Lauer, R. (1999). How to survive in an empty nest: Reclaimingyour life when your children have grown.

Pasick, P. (1998). Almost grown: Launching your child from high school to college.

Van Steenhouse, A. & Parker, J. (1998). Empty nest, full heart: The journey from home to college.