Let's Think About Mental Health During Your Teen’s First Year Away from Home. In fact, let's think about it before they even leave...
Do you remember your first year at college?
I remember mine. Since I started college late, I was a bit older than almost all of the Freshman there but I was still nervous. Where were all of my classes located? Since I had to walk across this huge campus, how would I get to them on time? How was I going to find time to eat let alone practice, work and take a full load of classes?
My head was spinning and I have to tell you, it didn't feel great.
Now I know that we can prepare our teens for SAT tests and help with homework assignments or projects. We can even remind them to practice and get those assignments done. But, in my humble opinion, I do not think we can quite prepare them for leaving their home and being accountable for everything that they do. Teaching our teens all of these things would be like teaching them Spanish and then dropping them off in Spain and expecting them to swim through the experience effortlessly. I mean, overnight, your teens are going to be leaving their lifelong safe space of family and friends and are off in a completely new world and surrounded by people they do not know with expectations that they have really never had before. It would be a bit much to think that they will just take off and be fine.
This change of life can be terrifying!
Fortunately, there are some tips out there for your teens that will help them navigate this uncertainty and confusion. It doesn’t matter how prepared they might be, there will always be something that might throw them off their game. For one thing, this enormous change in life will do just that.
Here are some stress triggers:
Sleep deprivation - We all remember pulling those all-nighters to finish projects, study for exams and finish papers. Even a few nights of this can disrupt one’s sleep pattern and cause a month or more of sleep deprivation.
Loneliness - Leaving their traditional support system of family and friends can be a huge factor in this. Teens are starting fresh in a completely new place and creating a completely new life. They are transforming themselves into a completely different person and that can be a lonely transition. It could even feel as if they are not even there for themselves. At least the person they used to be, anyway.
Academics - Amidst the confusion of starting a whole new life these teens are expected to get the grades in an extremely demanding and sometimes hostile atmosphere. The competition alone in college is stressful let alone the practice, studying and even working a job to support themselves.
The stress of the Freshman year in college is something I do not think a lot of people talk about. I would take time before your teen even leaves for school to set up some mental health strategies.
#1 Arrive at college early and have a plan. After getting settled, I would have your teens find out where all of their classes are and take a campus tour by themselves. Taking a stroll to find out how long it takes to walk from the dorms to the English or Science buildings would be a great way to familiarize themselves with the campus. Check out this inside of the building as well to find out what floor or in what room the class resides. Find out where the professors' offices are . This may seem like a no brainer but I think when teens are leaving high school and entering college, they might not even think about doing these simple acts. There are so many things on their minds!
#2 See this change as an exciting journey! Just finding a different way to look at something can change the way one reacts to a certain situation. Maybe looking at college in a way that will shine a light on their future more than leaving behind childhood will be less traumatic and more inspiring. So embrace that change! This is a journey!
#3 Create a great support system. If there are family members or close family friends in the town where your teen will be going to college, make certain to keep those family connections. If no family members or friends are close by, encourage your teen to join clubs, sports or music ensembles. (If they are musicians, there will be plenty of ensembles so I guess you really don’t have to worry about that.)
#4 Remember to have your teens set goals for themselves. I would buy them a yearly/monthly planner. The organizing of their week should be done on the weekends and then they will be ready to go at the beginning of each week. Having goals and a plan for the week will give your teen more control and that will surely lead to less anxiety. There will definitely be confusion if the week’s to-do list is tossed into the wind, so write things down and put them somewhere out in the open and in plain sight so they are not forgotten. Eliminate that altogether!
#5 It might make your teen feel better if they know they are not alone in their anxiety. Everyone feels nervous during this time. This is a huge life change and quite frankly, I might feel a bit nervous if my teen wasn’t on edge about going somewhere new and life changing. I think knowing that they are not alone might allow your teen the ability to talk to other people and share coping strategies.
#6 Parents should set up visits to the college. Don’t be shy, stop by your child’s university parents! I know teens love to tell you that they have it all under control or that they do not need you there, but they do. You do not have to go every week. Even if you can get to see them once a semester is fine. Just to go out to lunch or dinner. Check in, here and there. I personally don’t mind lunch. I can sit across the table and take a look to see if my teen is getting enough sleep or eating enough. We all know as parents that our teen’s appearance will tell us a lot and having a real conversation will tell us even more. Every parent is their own child’s expert. Don’t let anyone tell you anything different!
Here is an article from Harvard Health Publishing that is very helpful. I touched on many of the points in this article but it does go on to promote some more coping strategies that you might find helpful.
I hope you found this Blog helpful and I hope it eases any of your (the Parent's) anxiety. I know that you will be feeling it too!
I have another free one hour online workshop coming up at the end of this week on September 23, 2022 at 5pm PDT. You can sign up for it here
Here is a link to my Get In! Podcast - Musicians Auditions -