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A daughter or son may be excited yet nervous about embarking on a new adventure this fall: the first semester of college.
During recent interviews, counselors and parents shared tips on how parents can relieve their children’s jitters while still respecting their new role of young adult. After all, those much-talked about weight gains known as the “freshman 15” come from some kind of anxiety.
A big fear of new students is that they’ve chosen the wrong school and won’t be happy, said Carol Jacobs, director of college guidance at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy.
To remedy this, Jacobs recommends that students keep an open mind, remember that no school is perfect and get involved in extracurricular activities right away.
She focuses on activities students think are “really cool” but never had the opportunity to try. For example, they could join a juggling club, write for a school publication or work for a cause. And if one activity doesn’t pan out, try something else, she said; it may take some time to find the right niche.
Jacobs highly recommends attending the pre-orientation programs many schools offer a week before classes. In these structured, more intimate settings, students develop enduring friendships. It was at such a program, she said, that her daughter met her future husband.
New students also fear that they won’t keep up academically, said Jacobs. Not to worry: college campuses have many support services to help students adjust. Students usually attend seminars detailing these resources before classes start.
Ellen Berman, family psychiatrist and director of training for the Center for Couples and Adult Families at the University of Pennsylvania, noted that academics are especially tough for first-semester freshmen. Along with new studies, they’re learning how to navigate a new environment and social networks on their own.
Because of the ease of keeping in touch afforded by modern technology, parents need to be mindful about over-communicating, said Jacobs.
Mark Govoni, dean of students at Philadelphia University, said some parents even resort to GPS tracking devices.
Jacobs recommends that parents let their children take the lead in making contact. If this is too unstructured for some families, the parents and child can work out an understanding about the best day and time to call.
Cecily Carel, board president of the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, knows from what she speaks as an experienced parent of kids who have gone through the college process: Lauren, 23, and David, 21. She recommends that parents review the materials schools send about their resources. That way if a child calls and is upset about failing a math exam, parents can ask informed questions.
Allow children to find their own solutions. “It’s most important for students to learn to negotiate and address their own issues, but with your coaching and support,” said Carel.
Indeed, whereas Carel said she and her husband let their own children take the lead, they tell Lauren and David .that they are nevertheless always available to speak — but didn’t expect frequent calls. They expected their children to be very busy.
“Now having said that,” Carel continued with a laugh, “to this day I always send a ‘Shabbat Shalom’ text to my children on Friday afternoon, and this typically results in a follow-up call by them.”