If your student has never lived away from home before – and most Wake Forest students have not – being a college student means being fully responsible and autonomous for all aspects of daily life. Absent Mom or Dad setting household rules on when to go to sleep or wake up, what to eat or drink, when to exercise, when to play, when to study, etc., students must set their own schedules for basic physical needs, and determine how they want to handle emotional needs and relationships.
In the first several weeks of school, students must exercise their newfound freedom as they try to find their comfort zone on campus. We all want our children to make good choices and be successful. Here are a few helpful things you might want to stress with your student so that he or she achieves optimum balance and wellbeing:
- Encourage your student to find a sleep pattern that works for him or her. Whether your student is a morning person or a night person, one of the keys to being a healthy and well adjusted student is to be adequately rested. It could be 8 hours a night or 4 hours with power naps during the day – whatever helps your student feel at his or her best.
- Stress moderation in everything. Going overboard is never a good thing. Encourage your student to eat a healthy and balanced diet, avoiding overindulging or undereating. Some first year students may gain the “Freshman Fifteen” but it is not cause for alarm (and to quote our “College Transition” moderators at Orientation, if your daughter has gained weight – do not talk about it and make it an issue!) Remind your student that you love him/her for who they are, not how much they weigh. And if your student has a concern about her eating habits, you can point out that there are resources available in the Counseling Center.
- Remind your student not to overcommit. Many students are used to juggling very busy high school schedules with incredible extracurricular schedules. At least for the first semester, as your student adjusts to college life, encourage your student to pick just a couple of activities and devote him/herself to them. Your student can always add more activities later, but will be happier if he/she is not overextended and trying to balance too much too soon.
- Invite your student to Stop. Pause. Relax. Disconnect. The Quad is full of wonderful Biederman cafe tables and chairs, perfect for a 10 minute sit in the sun to enjoy lunch or chat with someone. There are carts on the Quad with games and exercise equipment. Find a few minutes to turn off the phone, put down the books, and have a relaxed chat with a friend. One way to help manage stress is to stop and be mindful of your surroundings, your breathing, observe nature, peoplewatch.
- Stress personal hygiene and preventative care. Good habits – like hand washing, taking vitamins, avoiding others who are sick, and getting vaccines for the flu and other common college ailments – can help your student stay healthy on campus. Recommend getting the flu vaccine; there are multiple options to do so this fall.
- Encourage your student to pay attention to the heart as well as the head. This is a beautiful campus, and college should be fun. Take a break. Take a walk outside. Have a fun lunch with friends. Make sure every day has both work and joy – in whatever form is most meaningful to the student.
- And, a final, difficult one: talk to your student about personal responsibility and safety in matters of alcohol, drugs, and sexual activity. Though the drinking age is 21, some first year students will experiment with alcohol – hopefully in moderation. Last fall we heard about two very sad stories – one about a student who died from taking the club drug Molly (aka Ecstasy) and another one about a student who was killed in a car accident by his intoxicated roommate. The Student Health Service has resources on their web site about substance misuse and prevention that are worth knowing about. Finally. we know some students are/will be sexually active – hopefully using protection. Each family has their own comfort zone in discussing these matters. There are resources available on campus via the Student Health Service and the Counseling Center for students who want to talk to someone about issues of sexuality or alcohol. But above all, urge your students to be safe in whatever they do.