Parents, college is coming up fast. While you are prepared to have the conversation about bedding, budgets, banks, toiletries, meal plans, visits, and logistics covered, there are three questions most parents don’t think to ask. Plan a road trip, spend the day shopping, go on a family hike (out of cell phone range) and bring up the following three questions to help your child start planning for all the big changes ahead.
1. What do you want to happen this year?
Be prepared for a “deer in the headlights” type of response. Don’t be surprised if your child struggles or freezes. Most students don’t think about what they want to happen the first year in college. Everything up to now has been about getting in.
Being intentional about what they want will give them direction and focus. If they struggle answering this question, you can help them out. Bring up friends, grades, getting involved, athletics, jobs, mental health, or whatever else drove them to pick this school. It’s important for them to want things that aren’t solely dependent on other people inviting or selecting them. For example, if they want to join a fraternity or sorority they should also have a plan to find friends in a club, organization, or activity where they will automatically be accepted and included.
Encourage them to tell their story as if it’s already happened. For example, it’s the last day of your first year in college, what are three things you wanted to happen and how did you make these things happen? The more specific, the better.
WARNING: Don’t talk about what YOU want right now. It’s all about them.
2. How will you find your people and places next year?
Your child is now responsible for creating a new life in a new place surrounded by new people. Some students struggle with this. Why? Well, you’ve been the person behind the curtain pulling the levers. You’ve been signing them up, getting them involved, and taking care of business. Now it’s their turn. The formula is people, places, and patience.
Students who don’t have places feel lost. Students who don’t have people feel alone. Places are where your child will sweat, play, pray, live, learn, lead, love, and work. Having three places will give them options. Suggest using their experiences from high school to guide them to find places in college. Remember, encourage them to find at least one place where they don’t have to audition, get invited, or be accepted.
When it comes to finding their people, they can find people who volunteer (student leaders, alumni, etc.), people who are paid (staff, counselors, coaches), and people they can enlist. Places like spiritual groups, intramurals, academic clubs, and volunteer groups are easy ways to find kind people. Having people and places is essential. Remind them, it can take a good year to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. The earlier they think people, places, and patience, the sooner they can start creating a support system on campus.
3. If you can’t talk to me, who will you talk to?
College can be uncomfortable at times. According to ACHA-NCHA, over the past 12 months 62.3 percent of all college students reported feeling overwhelming anxiety, 63.2 percent felt lonely, and 53.1 percent felt hopeless. Uncomfortable is a normal part of college life. Should it happen, where will your child turn? Yes, you are the most supportive and loving parent in the world, but still, there are going to be things your kid might not feel comfortable talking to you about.
When you hold all the power (and possibly pay the bills), it can be hard for your kid to tell you about skipping class for the third time because they stayed out too late. And really, you don’t always want to know everything. When you have this conversation, let them know it’s normal for the first year to be uncomfortable at times. Make it clear that you want to be there but appreciate it can be helpful to talk to and have other people in their corner. If you have a child with history of anxiety, lean on the counselor or therapist who has helped your child in the past. Other people they can to talk to can include a spouse, partner, spiritual leader, teacher, counselor, relative, mentor, or anyone else your child can trust.