Parenting From a Distance
College is a time for exploration. As with all exploration, results cannot always be predicted, which can lead to anxiety for both the student and the parent. Deciding to attend Jacksonville State University is itself an exploration, and even the happiest of students may at times feel homesick or doubt him or herself. This questioning and changing may at times seem to apply to every choice a student makes, from academic major to friends to how much contact they should have with their family. To the concerned parent, this can sound like a cry for help, a personal rejection, or the beginnings of a true crisis.
Understanding what is truly happening will involve patience and careful listening on your part. Most often, the true purpose of a phone call is to vent frustrations and fears, so the student feels heard and understood. Once this is accomplished, students usually feel relieved and ready to move forward. However, for parents, a distressed phone call is often the beginning of a long night of worry, only to find out at the next day's check-in that from the student's point of view, everything is fine. Prolonged behavioral changes, such as loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, withdrawal from social activities, or avoidance of classes or other responsibilities, might be signals that your student is experiencing more than an adjustment difficulty. While every student is different, there are some stages that students frequently experience during college. Being prepared may help you distinguish between a problem and a crisis.
The college years represent an important developmental transition point as students begin to shift their focus from peers and family, to their own identities.
For Freshmen, the transition out of the family home and into a diverse community of young adults presents a unique opportunity to shed their high school personas and begin to see themselves outside of how others see them. Even if it appeared that your son or daughter was rebelling in high school, your student's identity was likely still largely tied to their peer group, and the values and expectations they were taught at home. Away from home, students typically set their own rules, explore their own interests, and may attend to their own reactions with less influence by others.
Sophomores may question their choice of major. They may feel for the first time that their decisions are irreversible, beginning to connect their academic decisions to the careers available to them. Managing their feelings and translating them into productive decision making can be an important learning process. Students need to be allowed free range to explore, which often means holding back some of those protective urges. Mistakes are a necessary part of the developmental process.
Juniors, having successfully navigated some of these new options and decisions, may begin to identify internally more as adults. They may seek greater stability in their living arrangements and relationships, and have a clearer sense of who they are and what they desire from life. This sense of autonomy may extend to home, as they look less to family to provide that sense of stability. Some students may be less likely to come home for breaks, as they attempt to establish their own homes with friends. Creating their own emotional safety - the knowledge that they can take care of their own needs and problems - will be an important part of their development.
Seniors will face graduation, often with both excitement and uncertainty. They may spend much of this year trying to build their sense of competence and purpose. They may review their skills and reflect on what they have learned in college, consolidating their self-identity with a sense of meaning and clarity about their own strengths. This is also a time of good-byes, to both friends and an important phase of life.
Trust the Process:
Your son or daughter had many strengths when they lived at home. Those qualities traveled with them to Jacksonville and, as a parent, you can help remind your student of all the challenges they have already successfully faced. Even if you have already sent a child to college, this one will be different. He or she may adjust to college life at a different pace, complain more or less than a sibling, or lead to a few more anxious nights wondering if they will ever stop feeling homesick, heal a broken heart, or decide who they are and what they want to do with their lives. There is no one way students come to these resolutions. As a parent, you can help your student trust in their own abilities to find the answers, and suggest seeking help when additional support is needed. A student need not reach a point of crisis to seek and benefit from counseling. Whatever the frustrations, learning about your son or daughter as an adult may be one of the unexpected rewards of parenting during the college years.
If you have a concern about your son or daughter's development, we encourage you to call us for consultation.
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The following may provide additional insight, reassurance, and guidance to parenting your son or daughter while they are in college.
When Kids Go to College: A Parent's Guide to Changing Relationships
Barbara M. Newman and Philip R. Newman. Ohio State University Press, 1992.
The Parent's Crash Course in Career Planning: Helping Your College Student Succeed
by Marcia B.Harris and Sharon L. Jones. VGM Career Horizons, 1996.
Courtesy of Boston University