Coming to college is a huge adjustment for students—and for parents and families. For students, there are many potential challenges: Leaving behind family, friends, home, pets. Moving to New York City. Sharing a room and suite with new people. Finding friends and fitting in. Managing self-care—sleep, meals, laundry, cleaning up, homework, finances. Dealing with freedom and temptations. Coping with college-level courses, professors, grading practices. No wonder students have bumps along the way.
For parents and families, the adjustment comes from not having students around. Some families struggle with the empty nest syndrome—life seems lonelier at home without the student. Families may also worry about the student’s safety or ability to manage on his or her own. Another adjustment is to ways students change. The student may start questioning previous political or religious beliefs or career goals, may socialize with different sorts of friends, may start sporting a nose ring or purple dyed hair. Many students insist on greater independence than before—some do the opposite and go through a needy phase. Expect change.
So how should parents respond? There are no universal answers right for every family, but here are general guidelines:
Establish expectations for staying in touch. These will be different for different families. For some, a phone call once a week or every two weeks is sufficient. For other families a more frequent communication schedule will feel right. Whatever you decide, make clear these communications are important. You have every right to know your student is safe and is doing fine at college.
Since sometimes all you need to know is that the student is okay, learn to text. It’s an easy, unintrusive way to make contact.
Listening & Encouragement
Even though students may have moved away to college, often parents and families remain the number one source of support. College students do not outgrow the need for their families’ love and encouragement.
When students have problems, listen supportively and offer encouragement. Let them talk things out. Express confidence that they can cope with the problem, but at the same time take their problems seriously—don’t suggest they are wrong to feel upset. Sometimes students just need to vent to the ones who love them. Be a good and patient listener!
In other words, don’t immediately switch to problem-solving mode. Don’t fire suggestions and advice, or dismiss the student’s own ideas. It’s best for students’ development if they figure out problems on their own, even if that means making mistakes sometimes. That’s how they grow up.
TIMES TO GET More Involved
Sometimes, however, you probably should step in. Listen to your student’s cues. If they are very much in need of advice or suggestions, then by all means offer them.
Here are signs a student is having special difficulties and needs your help:
- Extended periods of high anxiety, tearfulness, feeling “stressed out”
- Signs of being depressed, withdrawn, stops attending class or socializing, stays in the room
- Significant changes in weight, sleeping habits
- Expressions of hopelessness, giving up
- References to suicide or self-harm
- Your own judgment based on knowing the student that something is wrong
What then should you do? Here are options:
- Encourage the student to make an appointment at the Counseling & Wellness Center (see information below).
- Encourage the student to make use of other campus resources: the RA or Residence Director (for residential students), faculty advisor, the Office of Academic Advisement (212.517.0568), or Vice President Carol Jackson (212.774.0750).
- Contact CWC or Vice President Jackson for a consultation.
- If you are worried about your student’s safety: during business hours, contact CWC (212.774.0700), Office of Residence Life (212.774.0740), or Office of Student Affairs (212.774.0750). After-hours, contact Campus Safety (212.517.0411).
Confidentiality & Consultations
Our contacts with students are confidential. Our records are not shared with any other offices in the college, and we do not share information about students with faculty, administrators or parents and families, including whether students have come in for CWC services. Confidentiality is essential to ensure students’ trust and ability to speak freely, and it is required by mental health professional codes of ethics.
However, parents and families should rest assured that CWC will take necessary steps, including contacting families and disclosing information, when students’ safety is at risk. In addition, if students sign a release of information, CWC is able to share information with parents.
Although CWC is unable to disclose information about students without a signed release of information, parents and families are always free to contact us to share information. If you believe there is information helpful for us to know, we encourage you to call 212.774.0700 and ask to speak to a counselor. We will also gladly offer feedback based on the information you share.
If you are encouraging a reluctant student to come in for an appointment, you are also welcome to call us. We would be happy to discuss with you ways to invite the student to make an appointment.