Bonnie Carroll: Away At College – A New But Navigable Experience For Students And Parents – August 24, 2010

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Well, it’s that time of year again. Many children are leaving the nests and flying off on their own for their first year of college.

It’s a scary and exciting time for everyone involved. Parents are afraid about whether or not their children will be OK, be happy, have everything they need, and take good care of themselves.

The college-bound youth are excited about their new life adventure, but at the same time sad to leave their friends and family. For both the parents and students, there is a lot of fear, anxiety and excitement about what college will be like.

Parents just have to have faith that their children will be OK. At least they can follow the college recommendations and send their children off with everything they will need. Make sure you include a first aid kit, medications, a few dishes for the dorm room and some healthy snacks to get the kids through the late night study sessions and missed meals at the cafeteria.

It is also important to talk with your children about what they can expect. There will be a lot of wild and crazy behaviors happening in the first year dorms. Although drug and alcohol use are against dorm policy, the reality is that they will be there.

For some children this is the first time they have the freedom to make all their own life choices, and some struggle with bad choices and poor boundaries.

Remind your college-bound kid to be careful with or avoid drug and alcohol use altogether. I recommend honest discussions about the effects, both positive and negative, of alcohol and drug use. “Just say no” doesn’t work when many around you are saying yes. Education is the key.

Likewise, a little refresher course on safe sex, abstinence, respecting your body and respecting everyone else’s bodies would probably be a good idea right about now.

Parents should remind their children to keep their eye on the prize and remember this is the beginning of the rest of their life. The parents have helped their children build the foundation for their life, but now these young adults are on their own to put up the framework. Remind them to build a strong frame that will withstand the trials and tribulations that life will inevitably have to offer.

You have done a great job raising your child, but now it is time to step back and let them spread their wings to fly.

My daughter, Amber Carroll, is getting ready to enter her senior year of college, and I asked her what advice she would give to incoming freshman and their parents. She provided the following recommendations:

It is important to be really outgoing for the first few weeks of college because that’s when groups start to form. It’s during these first few weeks that you make most of the friends you will have for the following year and possibly years to come.

• Choose your friends wisely because these may be friends that you’ll have for the rest of your life.

• Go to all of the social activities, mixers and meetings that your school offers.

• Don’t take a heavy caseload your first semester since so much of your time and energy will be spent on adjustment and socialization.

• There is a website called ratemyprofessor.com where students rate college professors. You can review what other students thought about any potential teachers you are thinking of taking.

• Don’t be afraid to ask your teachers for help if you don’t understand something or you need extra help with studying and learning the material presented.

• Develop a relationship with your advisor early on and make a four year plan. Even if your plan changes, at least you have a good outline to guide you.

• Don’t get carried away. A lot of kids go to college and can’t handle the freedom. It’s important to balance your social life with your academic life. Remember that you’re not paying thousands of dollars just to party.

• Dorm life is great, but not for everyone. Sometimes more mature students are not comfortable with the crazy energy in the dorms, all the social dynamics and the rules and restrictions placed on dorm residents.

• On the other hand, many students really like dorm life. It is a great way to meet friends and develop strong bonds. Many of the friendships formed in the dorms become really close, and they can be like a second family. Also, the structure of dorm life is helpful for students who are leaving home for the first time.

It is important for parents to remember not to freak out if your kid doesn’t call you all the time. Remember, they are really busy juggling school, socializing and life in general.

And lastly, it is good for parents to remember that children go off to college not only for an education but also to experience life. Mistakes will be made, so don’t be too hard on your kid when they stumble and even fall. College is really hard the first year, so be supportive of your child.

If you are a parent or a college age youth who is struggling with this transitional period in your life, you may want to consider counseling for yourself.

Humboldt State maintains a Counseling & Psychological Services center. (707) 826-3236, humboldt.edu/counseling/

Many of the therapists in our community can be found listed on the North Coast Association of Mental Health Professionals website at ncamhp.org.

You can even search for therapists on this website who specialize in treatment of specific populations and specific disorders. If you are going to college out of the area, you can go to your campus’ counseling center to ask for help or referrals.

Bonnie Carroll is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a counseling practice in McKinleyville. Contact her directly at askbonnie@arcatanet.com.

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