In the next few weeks, thousands of area college students will head to campus, many for the first time. Leaving home can create anxiety for freshmen -- and for their parents. Offering advice is Steve Gladis, an associate dean at the University of Virginia's Northern Virginia Center in Falls Church, who wrote "Surviving the First Year of College."
QWhen teens head off to college, you advise parents to give them "roots and wings" to ease the transition. Can you explain that?
AProviding a touchstone, a link back to stability during a year of continuous adjustment, is critical. As parents, you can offer firm roots to first-year students being blown around by the strong winds of change. At the same time, as students begin to stabilize, you have to let them go -- to give them wings. First-year students need to make their own decisions, so give them the space and time to do just that.
What suggestions do you have for parents going through the "empty nest" syndrome?
Communicate, communicate, communicate. With phone cards, cell phones, e-mail and Instant Messenger, there's no excuse for not staying in touch with your college-bound student. Don't be surprised to get a lot of contact in the very beginning and for it to taper off as the semester rolls on. Also, embrace the quiet!
How does the transition from home to college change the nature of the parent/child relationship?
There's a story about an aging minister who gave advice to a young couple about having a long, loving marriage: Keep your eyes wide open before marriage and half shut after marriage. I advise the same with adult children. At some point, first-year students come home for a weekend break or for the longer, more challenging holiday break.
The first visit home will be interesting. Kids and parents aren't quite sure how to react to each other. As best you can, treat them like guests and not like big children. For example, forget curfews. They haven't had curfews for months.
What resources are available for parents and students to help handle the difficulties in making the transition from home to college?
When in doubt, check your feelings with other parents. Find parents who have already survived the first year of college. Talk to other kids, like recent college graduates. Finally, if you ever sense that your child has a serious problem, don't hesitate to contact the school's counseling office.
As a rule, school counselors are excellent, confidential and very experienced in problems that might arise. Enlist their help.
Finally, fasten your seat belt. You're in for a roller-coaster ride. The smiley faces of the first few days as kids meet their cool roommates and their interesting teachers will eventually turn into frowny faces by mid-semester, if not sooner.
As students' idealized views of college -- parties, fun, and sun -- turn rudely into reality -- tests, compromises, and adjustments -- smiles turn into frowns. It is NORMAL.
Let me repeat this: It is NORMAL.
Reach Steve Gladis at firstname.lastname@example.org. He answered questions via e-mail from staff writer C. Woodrow Irvin.