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5 Tips for Parents of First-Year College Students

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The first year of college is an exciting time for students. But it can also be a stressful step into adulthood, as students take on more responsibilities and face new challenges on their own.

“Navigating the independence and autonomy that comes with being away at school can be difficult,” says Jeffrey Ng, Psy.D., director of counseling and psychological services (CPS) at Fordham. “There’s a whole set of stressors students might experience, such as homesickness, academic pressure, financial demands, and anxiety related to developing new relationships and fitting in.”

Simply put, being a college student today isn’t easy—and there are statistics to back it up: A 2018 American College Health Association study revealed that more than 87% of college students surveyed felt overwhelmed by all they have to do. And more than 40% reported that they were so stressed, it was difficult to function.

“Increasingly, more students arriving on campus have a tendency toward perfectionism,” Ng says. “We have to deconstruct that. It is part of the human experience to err and be fallible. The idea of letting go of perfectionism is really important.”

In addition, Ng adds, overly involved parenting and the pervasiveness of social media and technology are contributing to the rise in anxiety and depression on college campuses nationwide.

So what can parents do to help their children make a smooth, healthy transition and thrive in college?

Ng and David Marcotte, S.J., a Jesuit priest and clinical psychologist at Fordham who teaches a popular new course, The Psychology of Personal Well-Being: How to Live a Happy Life, offer the following tips.

Talk about what to expect.
Help your student imagine ways they might cope with some of the typical stresses of their first year in advance, Father Marcotte says. These might be practical chats about doing their own laundry or keeping their suite clean, or deeper conversations about emotional vulnerabilities like feeling lonely or being disappointed about a test grade.

“We want them to feel that they are the agent of this process and that they are ready to face what’s going to come down the road,” he says. Discuss the fact that it’s normal to feel vulnerable at different times in life and that it’s healthy to seek out support, Ng adds. “Parents can help students identify what resources are available and how to access them if they should ever need help working through an issue.”

Encourage your student to get involved.
One of the most common challenges first-year students face is finding new peer groups and making friends. They also might get so wrapped up in academics that they forget the importance of human connection, play, and downtime.

“Studies show that students who become engaged on campus are usually more successful than those who don’t,” Ng says. So whether your child is into sports, music, journalism, or something else, encourage them to seek out clubs and activities where they can do what they enjoy while building a new social network.

Advise them to put social media in its place.
The overuse of technology and social media has been linked to mental health issues, Ng says. It interferes with essential human relationships and can foster low self-esteem by exposing young people to curated versions of other people’s lives.

“They are constantly comparing themselves,” Ng says. “We encourage our students to be more intentional, thoughtful, and discerning about how they perceive and relate to social media,” he adds, something parents should cultivate, too.

Remind them to be kind to themselves.
When students encounter the pitfalls and unexpected obstacles everyone experiences in adulthood, help them adopt a “growth mindset,” Father Marcotte says.

“The best way to build resilience is to see everything from a growth perspective. Even failures, disappointments, and losses hold within them important lessons that teach us how to go forward in a better way,” he adds. Encourage your student to focus on what they can learn from difficult experiences. Practicing generosity and meditation, Father Marcotte says, are other ways to build inner strength and “enlarge the soul.”

Finally, Ng emphasizes the importance of self-compassion and self-care, advising students to remember the basics: exercise, nutrition, and sleep. 

Let go and trust them.
By the time your student arrives at college, they already have a moral compass that you have helped build over the years. “We have to trust that,” Ng says. “I know it’s hard to do, but it’s part of letting go.”

Father Marcotte agrees. “Parents need to see that their work is to help their children into ‘interdependence,’ where they remain connected, but the child has the ability to act on his or her own and become a full adult. This is the season for that to begin.”

—Claire Curry

For more information about on-campus resources for students, check out the Quick Links for Parents section of the Fordham website.

 

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