College requires much independent thinking and decision-making of students. Ideally, your child has gained these skills gradually over the past 18 or os years. If so, your student will have a less challenging time adapting to his/her new environment. Still, there will be many choices to make and nearly every student will struggle at times.
How much your student informs you of his/her dilemmas often depends upon the parent/child relationship whicn was established prior to college. Does your budding adult tend to keep you abreast of his/her friendships, romantic relationships, financial dealings, academic challenges, career goals, health concerns, etc.? Or are you often left in the dark about what is going on? Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how your son/daughter is adjusting to his/her new environment, roommate, classes, social climate and freedom.
College students may continue their past patterns of communication with parents; however, sometimes the distance and new experience of freedom changes a student’s perception of independence enough to change the relationship. Having so much newfound freedom may disarm a once combative teen who was out to prove that they no longer needed you; that same individual may express feelings of neediness and/or homesickness. If this is the case with your son/daughter, don’t be surprised. It is truly natural for people of this developmental stage to vacillate between the independence of an adult and the needs of a teen.
Most people of college age have already begun to establish their own value system and have had to grapple with personal decisions about alcohol, sex and drugs prior to arriving on campus. However, peer pressure and having no parental boundaries will bring your child face-to-face with some decisions which they have not had to deal with in the past. The structure of having to be home at a certain time to face Mom or Dad is no longer in place. No one will be waiting up to check in with your son/daughter after a night out. This lack of structure may be overwhelming to some students. Discuss these challenges with your student prior to their departure from home, and let him/her know that they can call you at any time of the day or night if they have a problem or just want to chat.
Parental direction can be of great value to college students — especially if it is in the form of a discussion as opposed to a lecture. (Many parents find the car ride to college to be an ideal time for a "so how do you envision this college experience?" discussion.) If you already have confidence in your son/daughter’s decision-making ability, take this opportunity to let them know that you believe in them AND that you are also available to guide them when they need/want guidance. There is a commonly-held belief that in late adolescence, youth function with relative autonomy; however, a recent study found that family cohesion and support continue to play an important role in the well-being and functioning of young people emerging from adolescence. Feeling close to one’s family may actually contribute to competence in autonomous functioning. So, stay in touch and remember that mail, cards and packages are always appreciated (and a nice surprise!).
The Counseling Services Center is a great resource for students. Students who wish to make an appointment can reach us at 312.4416. If you're a parent with a concern who wishes to consult with a counselor, you are welcome to call the center during normal business hours. A variety of articles on typical concerns for college age students appear around this website. Please note that counseling is free and confidential. Since students 18 years of age are considered adults by law, counselors cannot reveal if a particular student is receiving services. We are, however, available to speak in generalities about particular concerns parents may have. Please remember that your student’s successful adjustment to college is our priority.