Feeling anxious or worried about starting college is a common experience for teenagers. While this can be an exciting time, the unknown can also be daunting. However, as a parent, there are steps you can take to help alleviate your teen’s concerns and fears.
As the end of the school year approaches, parents of high school graduates may face a new set of challenges: preparing for the start of college. With just a few months left until mid-August, when their kids will embark on a new chapter of their lives, there is much to be done. Emotions are heightened for everyone, particularly for those heading off to college.
This significant transition may cause fear and anxiety for them, although they may not express it or even be aware of it.
Fear of the Unknown
According to Colleen Wildenhaus, the founder of the Goodbye Anxiety, Hello Joy website, many teenagers feel anxious about college because of the uncertainty it brings. College life is vastly different from high school; for the first time, teens are solely responsible for their academic, emotional, and social growth. It can be overwhelming for someone so young to navigate through all of these challenges.
Wildenhaus suggests that parents should change the focus of their conversations instead of pressuring their children to have everything sorted out. Instead, the emphasis should be on the excitement of new possibilities that college brings. The first year of college is full of great experiences that parents should be highlighting and discussing with their kids.
A World of New Experiences
One of the thrilling yet anxiety-inducing changes in college life is the process of making new friends. For most teenagers, their friends are people they have known for a long time, perhaps even since the beginning of their school journey. Consequently, the thought of building an entirely new circle of friends can be quite intimidating.
While most colleges organize events for new students to socialize and form connections, the actual act of socializing can still be daunting. Wildenhaus advises that parents arrange for their teenagers to spend some time with current college students if they have a positive relationship with them.
If it’s feasible, organizing a visit to the college campus before moving in is an excellent idea. This will allow teenagers to explore the layout of the campus and become acquainted with it. Moreover, campus tours are usually led by students, giving them the chance to ask questions about campus life, such as clubs and social events.
How Parents Can Help Teens with Anxiety
Mark McConville, a clinical psychologist, highlights an essential point in his article for The New York Times. Parents should start preparing their teenagers for college at least a year before they are set to leave. There is a plethora of information and skills that they must acquire, and starting early can alleviate many of their fears.
McConville emphasizes the importance of teaching readiness in administrative tasks, such as scheduling a doctor’s appointment. He notes that accomplishing these seemingly minor tasks is a significant developmental milestone, indicating that they are ready to think, feel, and act like adults.
In many cases, parents tend to handle such tasks, leaving teenagers clueless about how to go about them. McConville shares a story about a teenager who was about to start college but felt embarrassed because he did not know how to make a phone call and feared being yelled at by the office staff. I can relate to this, as even at 17, I was not comfortable ordering a pizza over the phone, let alone making appointments for myself.
To demonstrate to the boy that making a phone call isn’t as scary as it seems, his mother called the office and put the phone on speaker. Hearing the conversation allowed the teenager to see how it was supposed to be done, and as a result, his fear significantly decreased. Sometimes, modeling the behavior that they need to learn can be the key to reducing their anxiety.
Building on the idea of modeling behaviors, teenagers who are heading off to college will need to perform certain household tasks independently. Teaching them essential skills such as doing laundry, if they haven’t already learned it, or grocery shopping can be immensely helpful. Doing laundry, in particular, can be quite intimidating if they’ve never done it before.
While they may still call home for help with things like washing machine settings or fabric softeners, equipping them with these basic skills will give them an advantage. Of course, it’s inevitable that they will still come home with dirty laundry, but at least they will have the necessary skill set to deal with the problem when they run out of clean clothes.
Teaching Teens How to Handle Emotions
When it comes to the emotional and psychological impact of transitioning to college, it’s crucial to recognize that this entirely new experience can trigger concerns that teenagers may not have considered before. According to licensed clinical social worker Amy Morin, ensuring that your teenager is equipped with problem-solving skills before heading off to college is essential. Morin, who is also a psychotherapist and a psychology professor at Northeastern University, emphasizes that college students who lack problem-solving skills and struggle with difficult classes or roommate issues may either avoid the problem entirely or make hasty decisions that could be detrimental to their well-being.
According to Morin, it’s important to shift the focus away from finding solutions and, instead, teach teens about the problem-solving process itself. Developing problem-solving skills is more valuable than just finding answers since adaptability is a crucial skill that can be difficult to learn in the midst of challenging situations during college.
The American Journal of Public Health has published a study stating that while most college students feel academically prepared, the majority don’t feel emotionally equipped to handle the challenges ahead. Dealing with frustration and disappointment can be particularly difficult. Clinical social worker Amy Morin suggests that parents help their teen identify coping skills that can be used in college, emphasizing that the ability to adapt is a valuable asset.
In addition, A college admissions coach, Pam Andrews, advises parents to teach their teens to set boundaries and not feel pressured to conform to the crowd.
While it may seem overwhelming to tackle all of this within the next two months, there are plenty of opportunities to spend quality time with your teen and address these important topics. You can have these conversations while doing everyday tasks like folding laundry or shopping for dorm essentials at Target. Though these discussions may be difficult, everyone will feel more at ease and better prepared when the time comes for them to leave.