Hints for Parents/Guardians

After High School

It’s completely normal for college freshmen away from home to be awed – and even frightened – by their new lifestyle, and it’s just as normal for that alienation to snowball into some degree of loneliness and even homesickness.  A college director of housing sees homesickness as an issue, one of many that  freshmen must face, rather than a problem. “For the vast majority of students it is just something that must be dealt with,” he says. “And it usually results in a positive recognition of a gaining of independence in their lives.”  Most homesickness stems from a simple lack of readiness to be independent, says Dr. Richard Rynearson, Director of University Health Services at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.

Many homesick students can’t manage money. Many are unsure of themselves socially and “don’t have the confidence to develop friends and support systems in this environment.”  Many can’t even do something as seemingly easy as making medical or dental appointments because “Mom always did that.”  Hence the key to minimizing, if not completely avoiding, the on-your-own blues is parental preparation, which should begin long before the student ever stares out of a dormitory room window wondering, “Where am I? What am I doing here?”

Meantime, parents can help. Here are some tips:Be a positive example and convey an optimistic outlook during the college selection and decision phases.

  1. Teach your college student how to manage finances, how to manage a budget, how to write checks, and perhaps how to use a credit card since colleges are increasing credit card options for payment. During high school, make fewer major decisions for the student. Allow them to think for themselves.
  2. While your senior needs to increase independent thinking and decision-making, don’t push too hard. Expect possible foot-dragging behavior on your senior’s part as important deadlines approach – graduation announcements, college acceptance deadlines, housing deposits, etc.
  3. If your senior seems to have vague, generalized anxieties, suggest: 1) that they write down specific worries or concerns; and 2) that they see their high school counselor, one of their teachers, or someone else who might help with their concerns. AS a parent, state your own willingness to be of assistance.
  4. If “senioritis” or “boredom” sets in and creates a lack of interest in school and study, consider: exercise, volunteer or other work, a school activity, or “a brief” vacation.
  5.  Avoid getting a jump on changing your student’s physical surroundings. For example, do not promote nor permit another sibling to move into the vacated bedroom of the college-bound student the day or week the student leaves for college.
  6. Encourage students to get involved in social activities where they have to learn to get along with other people and be independent.
  7. Warn them that homesickness may occur, so they won’t be overwhelmed when it happens.When students want to come back home for good, encourage them to stay and try to get involved in activities. Urge them to seek help from the residence hall counselors or the psychological and medical services.

As a parent trying to define your feelings about your child leaving for college, try to honestly answer the following questions:

  • Will your child’s leaving feel like a loss to you?
  • If you are left with an “empty nest”, what are your plans for yourself?
  • How will it feel not being able to protect your child?
  • What expectations do you have for your child regarding career plans, college grades, social behavior, etc.?
  • When your college student returns home for visits, will you expect the same level of obedience or dependence?
  • Will you be comfortable with your child’s level of appreciation for the financial commitment you are making?

Recommended reading:

Letting Go — A Parent’s Guide to Understanding The College Years; Coburn, Treeger — Harper Perennial (http://www.lettinggobook.com)

This best-selling guide, based on real-life experience and recommended by colleges and universities around the country, offers compassionate, practical, and up-to-minute information to help parents with the challenging adjustments of the college years.