One of the most challenging things for college parents is deciphering their student’s emotions. Instead of being at home across the kitchen table – where you can see your student’s face and body language – you are now conversing with your son or daughter via email, cell phone, text message, or Facebook. You don’t have the familiar comfort of physically looking at your child to assess his or her well being.
At the Parent Transition session at Orientation, our facilitators, Dr. Joanne Clinch of Student Health and Dr. James Raper of the University Counseling Center, often tell the story of the ‘frantic phone call’ that parents get at college. Your student calls you and sounds quite distressed – whether it is stress about a bad grade, a roommate issue, whatever. They are at Defcon One and are telling you about everything that is going on that is unpleasant.
As a parent, you naturally are going to feel alarmed, helpless, or frantic in trying to figure out how to help fix it. And in the vast majority of cases, once your student unburdens him/herself, the situation improves dramatically for him or her. The problem is now *you* are the one carrying the worries and the burden!
If you get the frantic phone call, try to take a deep breath. Chances are, whatever seems to be bothering your student now might not be bothering him/her tomorrow. Often the act of simply talking about it to one’s parents allows the student to unburden himself and start the process of getting over whatever issue he/she had. A good night’s sleep and a day or two to distance himself from the situation also can help give the student perspective.
Parents, you must trust us about this. So many administrators have talked to a distressed parent who is worried about a phone call they just received, only to have the same parent call back in two days to say their student is fine, just happened to call home in a bad moment and as soon as they aired all the frustrations, the student went back to his or her normal routine.
The reality is that college is a big transition for our students, and most first years experience a wide range of emotions – and a lot of ups and downs – in the first semester as they embark on a new phase in their lives. Some of the common emotions your students might experience are:
- Excitement – meeting new friends, going to parties, feeling like a “real adult” now, discovering new academic passions, falling in love
- Fear or anxiety – about fitting in, not being the best in class, bad grades, not meeting parents’ expectations, changes to relationships with high school friends or significant others
- Stress – due to real or perceived workload, class selection, disagreements with a roommate or friends, or in setting personal boundaries and behavior
- Happiness – from forming strong bonds of friendship, feeling that this is a good “fit” for them, from academic successes
- Homesickness/weepy – missing parents, siblings, pets, high school friends, breakup with a significant other, or they have gotten sick for the first time away from home
- Fatigue – from late nights, lack of sleep, overextending themselves
Students frequently contact their parents after a significant incident, whether good or bad – a fight with a roommate, getting the first paper back or first exam grade, after a really fun weekend with friends. So at some point you will likely hear each of the above emotions from your student. Typically for the ‘happy’ calls, it’s easy. For calls when your student seems distressed, it’s much harder for parents and family members.
If you are concerned that your student might have an issue that is serious to them and wants assistance with it, there are a wide range of people students can consult as needed:
RA (Resident Advisor)
Or contact the Parent Programs office for recommendations at email@example.com.
As parents, you can help your student by listening – but letting him/her determine his/her own solutions to the issues whenever possible. And know that each experience your student has – the happy, the sad, the good and the bad – is helping your student learn valuable lessons inside and outside the classroom to develop character and maturity.