First Semester Angst

Hello College Freshman Parent,

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving with your loved ones.

In addition to cozy togetherness, there was likely also some tension as everyone struggled to figure out which household rules to still enforce, now that your student has spent time living away from home. That can be challenging!

Also, it may have been a time when your student let you know that they are not as happy at college as they had hoped. Maybe they are struggling academically or feel overwhelmed trying to balance work and play without the structure of high school. They may not have worked to join college activities and make new friends, opting instead to remain in close contact with those from high school. And, of course, there is the ever-present illusion of social media, suggesting that others are fabulously happy! Students at this age often do not realize the effort that may be needed to find their “people,” they expect it to just happen.

These challenges have always been an issue, but colleges have been reporting that new students are arriving at college less prepared – academically, socially, and emotionally – after the pandemic years in high school.

It is important to listen and help your student understand that they are not alone and that these feelings are more widespread than they think. It is also critical to assess if they need to seek mental health intervention if they are really struggling.

It can be helpful to encourage your child to look into additional support if they are struggling academically and to pursue activities on campus if they are unhappy socially. Getting involved in community service can often be a way to appreciate what they have and feel good about helping others. With some effort, things often turn around in the spring.

For the time being, students will want to keep their options open by getting strong grades in their courses. This will give them the option to consider a transfer if they have still not settled in by the end of the academic year. However, struggling academically or socially may not subside if a student transfers to a new school, so it’s important for students to put in renewed efforts to help things improve when they return to school after the winter break.

It is also possible that your student is just not yet ready to be at college. There is no lasting harm in taking a leave of absence for a semester (or longer) to work, get an internship, do a Gap Year experience, take a class at a community college while getting academic support, pursue a mental health program, etc.

Each student is on his or her own timeline. They may be a very strong college student when they are ready, but now might not be that time. Students with ADHD, a learning disability, or who are on the autism spectrum are often several years behind their peers in some areas of development. And all students suffered setbacks in most areas of development during the pandemic years. Students who are currently struggling with significant anxiety or depression are often not able to handle the rigors of college and life away from home for the first time.

(Here are two articles that address the academic and mental health issues that some new college students are facing.)

Take your student’s concerns seriously and help them make a plan for improvements and/or finding more support as they look toward the winter / spring semester. In many cases, you will be hearing a more positive story by the time spring break rolls around.

Grill Your Veggies, Not Your Teen

For students, Thanksgiving and the upcoming December holidays can be a nice break and a time to relax with family. Gatherings with friends and family are even more special these days as many extended families could not get together in person in recent years.

But for seniors, it can be particularly stressful, as they may have already applied to schools and are waiting to hear – or have not yet applied and have that hanging over them.

Since some students are already starting to hear that they are accepted (or not) to their dream school, it can raise the stress level even higher. Keep that in mind as the relatives assemble in person or on family calls. If the tension level is already high, you may want to ask Uncle Fred ahead of time to leave the subject of college out of his questions for your teen.

It’s important to talk to your child and let them know that it will all work out fine, even if they don’t get into a school(s) that they had their heart set on. Try not to let yourself get too attached either to the idea of a particular school. That will come across to your child and will make it even harder if things do not go their way.

Overall, we need to encourage our kids to work as hard as they can in school, spend time making decisions to apply to schools that are a good fit, and then know that it will all work out for the best.

It may be helpful (when the time is right) to share a story about yourself or another who didn’t get their first choice in buying a house, landing a job, or getting accepted into the school of their choice … but who looked back later, only to realize that their second choice was a better fit.

If your child gets disappointing news, it is good to empathize and let them have a chance to be sad. Then they may need some support to begin feeling good about Plan B. There are numerous great schools that will be a good fit for all of our kids, and it will be easier once your child begins to get excited about the next school on the list.

Most important, our kids should hear loud and clear that a rejection letter is not a commentary on them as a person. It is an opinion based on a paper record of their achievements. As wonderful as we all know our children to be, they simply may not have been what a particular school was looking for in rounding out its class in the coming year. And hopefully everyone is aware of how much more selective some colleges have become in recent years.

This is a good time to let our kids know that we think they are great, no matter where they go to college or whatever they choose to do after high school.

All the best for an enjoyable, healthy, and relaxing break with your family over the holidays this year.

It’s Time to Learn More

October is ADHD and Learning Disabilities Awareness month. That may seem like just another nod to increase awareness, which is good, but I encourage you and your child to take it as an opportunity to learn more and assess whether enough support is being provided.

Many students don’t want to feel different than their peers, or may not know that it is not typical to spend such long hours struggling to get their schoolwork completed. So, they just put their head down and try to plow through. Inevitably, that will catch up with them in lower grades, increased frustration levels, and may contribute to decreased self-esteem and anxiety.

I propose that you use the rest of this month to begin learning more from some of the many resources that are widely available. 

For example, many people are not aware of the emotional dysregulation that often accompanies ADHD. It may be harder for your child to manage their emotions or not react with an outburst when they perceive something to be upsetting. Their response may seem out of proportion. It is helpful to learn more about why that may be happening and what to do to help.

I have been listening to short (10 minutes) talks about ADHD this month and I think you and your family will find them helpful as a place to start:

I especially recommend the talk from Dr Sharon Saline on Managing Frustrations and Big Emotions, recorded on October 13th.

Here are a few other resources:

There are also many great books available, so find what works for you to learn a bit more about areas of challenge for your child. Your entire family will likely benefit!