Tips for Surviving the First Year

Don't Ask Them If They Are Homesick
The power of association can be a dangerous thing. One student said once, "the idea of being homesick didn't even occur to me, what with all the new things that were going on, until my mom called one of the first weekends and asked, 'Are you homesick?' Then it hit me." The first few days and weeks of school are activity-packed. The challenge of meeting new people and adjusting to new situations take a majority of a freshman's time and concentration. So, unless they're reminded of it, they'll probably be able to escape the loneliness and frustration of homesickness. Even if they don't tell you during those first few weeks, they DO miss you.

Write (Even if They Don't Write Back)
Although freshmen are typically eager to experience all the away-from-home independence they can in those first weeks, most are still anxious for family ties and the security these ties bring. Sensitive parents may misinterpret this surge of independence as rejection, but most freshmen would give anything for some news from home and family, however mundane it may seem to you. Write often

Ask Questions (But Not Too Many)
Parental curiosity can be alienating or relief giving and supportive, depending on the attitudes of the persons involved. Questions that are too pointed should be avoided. However, honest inquiries and other "between friends" communication and discussion will do much to further the parent-freshmen relationship.

Expect Change (But Not Too Much)
Your son or daughter will change - either drastically within the first few months, slowly over four years or some pace in between. It's natural, inevitable, and it can be inspiring and beautiful.

College and the experiences associated with it can effect changes in social, vocational and personal behavior and choices. An up-to-now wallflower may become a fraternity sweetheart; a pre-med student may discover that biology's not her thing after all; or a high school radical may become a class leader. You can't stop change, or often understand it. It is within your power (and to you and your son's or daughter's advantage) to accept it.

Remember that your freshman will be basically the same person that you sent away to school, aside from such interest changes and personality revision. Don't expect too much, too soon. Maturation is not an instantaneous or overnight process and you might well discover your freshman returning home with some habits and hang-ups, however unsophisticated, that you thought he/she had outgrown. Be patient.

Don't Worry (Too Much) About Manic-Depressive Phone Calls or Letters
Parenting can be a thankless job, especially during the college years. It's a lot of give and only a little take. Often when troubles become too much for a freshman to handle the only place to turn, write, or dial is home. Often unfortunately, this may be the only time that the urge to communicate is felt so strongly, so you never get to hear about the "A" paper, the new boyfriend, or domestic triumph.

In these "crisis" times your son or daughter can unload their troubles and tears and after the catharsis return to routine, relieved and lightened, while you inherit the burden or worry.

Be patient with those types of phone calls or letters. You're providing a real service as an advice dispenser and sympathetic ear. Granted, it's a service that makes you feel bad sometimes, but your concern works wonders for a frustrated student.

Visit (But Not Too Often)
Visits by parents - especially when accompanied by shopping sprees and/or dinners - are another part of the first-year events that freshmen are reluctant to admit liking but would appreciate greatly. Pretended disdain of those visits is just another part of the first-year syndrome.

Your visit gives your child a chance to introduce some of the important people in both of his/her now important worlds to each other. Additionally, it's a way for parents to become familiar with and gain more understanding of their student's new activities, commitments, and friends.

Spur-of-moment "surprises" are usually not appreciated. Pre-emption of a planned weekend of studying or other activities can have disastrous results. It's usually best to wait for Family Weekend or another scheduled time to see your son or daughter - that you way may even get to see a clean room.

Do Not Tell Your Son or Daughter That "These Are the Best Years Of Your Life"
Freshman year - and the other three as well - can be full of indecision, insecurities, disappointments, and most of all, mistakes. They're also full of discovery, inspiration, good times and people, but sometimes freshmen are unable to recognize these good years at the time.

It takes a while for students to accept that being unhappy, afraid, confused, disliking people and making mistakes are all part of the show, all part of growing up. It takes a while for parents to accept it too.

Any parent who believes that all college students get good grades, know what they want to major in, always have activity-packed weekends, thousands of close friends and lead carefree, worry-free living is wrong. So are the parents who think college-educated means mistake-proof. Parents that perpetuate these ideas and insist upon the "best-year" stereotype are working against their child's already difficult self-development. Those that accept and understand the highs and lows of their son or daughter's reality are providing the support and encouragement where it's needed most.

Trust Them
Finding oneself is a difficult enough process without feeling that the people whose opinions you respect most are second-guessing your own second-guessing. One student commented that, "One of the most important things my mom ever wrote me in my four years at college was this: 'I love you, and want for you all the things that make you the happiest; and I guess you, not I are the only one who knows best what those things are.' She wrote that during my senior year." If you're smart, you'll believe it now, mean it, and say it.

Adapted from the Orientation Director's Manual National Orientation Directors Association (NODA). 1992

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