The transition from high school to college can be both an exciting and scary time.
For most, it is the first time they live away from home and provide for their own needs. College-age students vary in their knowledge of independent living skills from effective budgeting, the joys of laundry, and how to manage a work/life balance.
These uncertainties and new experiences can create stress, especially when also trying to juggle the rigors of academics. Recent studies continue to show the rise in depression and anxiety symptoms for college-aged students since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here are a few suggestions on how you can help prepare your college-age student for their transition.
Familiarize yourself with the mental health support offered through your child’s college. There has been an increase for most colleges to provide better mental health services over the past ten years due to the increased depression and anxiety symptoms identified among students. Most colleges have a Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) organization that can provide various amounts of tools from therapy sessions, support groups, guides, and even a crisis line. Some colleges even allow individuals, including family and friends, to submit a CARE referral for a student if they are concerned about their well-being.
Take time to educate your child about these resources. While these items are covered during orientation, it’s likely with the plethora of information thrown their way; it could be helpful to sit down and review together. You can also use this time to brainstorm with your college student about what they can do to manage their stress while at school. If you both are struggling to come up with a solid list, turn to the internet. There are several suggestions you can find online for healthy coping skills.
Maintain regular contact with your student. Set up times to connect and check-in with how they are doing each week. Not only touching base with them about how their classes are going, but how it is going with making friends, managing stress, or mental health check-ins. Schedule times to visit with your student at school, whether it be during designated Parent’s Weekend or other times of the year. If need be, visit more often if there are concerns as a supportive parent can often provide the right level of support needed.
Listen, provide support, and no judgment or criticism. During your check-ins, it’s important to reinforce your desire to be a support person for them. As parents, the best way to do this is by actively listening to their concerns, providing guidance or advice if they ask, and not providing judgment or criticism. It is not uncommon for students to struggle academically at first as they learn how to balance their social lives with their academics. Most college-age students feel they should not burden their parents with their issues or feel like they should handle issues on their own. It’s important to normalize for them the need to seek help and support from you as their parent.
Lastly, review with your student the importance of sleep and nutrition and avoiding drugs/alcohol. You might get an eye roll, but studies show the importance of adequate rest and nutrition for one’s mental health and success. Remind them about the importance of making time to eat, eating healthy when possible, and getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep each day to recharge. When discussing alcohol/drug use, take a harm reduction approach. You can reinforce your feelings about the issue, but make sure to have honest conversations about how they can keep themselves safe if they plan to engage in these activities.