The In-Between

From the care of teens to emerging adulthood

Parent Tips for Crisis in the College Years

Does your family have a crisis plan if things fall apart during college?

It’s almost time for the start of the fall semester at most colleges and universities. Does your family have a crisis plan if things fall apart for your student while he or she is away from home? Your child goes off to college for one reason: to complete a college degree. Unfortunately, almost half the time, it doesn’t happen successfully. Why? Often because students hit major stumbling blocks and never recoup. A crisis can come in many forms: 

  • Missing classes
  • Failing grades
  • Substance use
  • Relationship Problems
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

 Students in crisis may stop participating in their educations, or may risk being dismissed from school for poor grades, lack of attendance, or rule violations.  You can help steer out of any crisis with the following steps: 

Plan in advance: First, consider the possibility that things won’t go smoothly well in advance. As you begin, have a plan for how you’ll intervene if your child stops functioning/growing/benefitting from your arrangement to help them get an education. 

It’s never too late to plan: Even if it’s not your first college semester, all families need a plan. A crisis doesn’t always happen in the first semester. Many students start off strong and then begin having trouble keeping pace in semester two or three or beyond. 

Find out what went wrong: If your child ends up in crisis, try to understand what exactly went wrong. Does he have trouble getting to early classes? Is she overwhelmed with the number of courses she is taking? Most college failure is the result of non-academic skills- like organization and time management or behavior problems. Understanding the underlying issues can help you find solutions. 

Ask for help: Seek guidance from a counselor, therapist, or educational professional to help define the problem clearly. Experienced professionals can help you define the problem, then help you come up with a plan to solve it. 

Don’t send kids back without a resolution: If your child couldn’t handle college because he wasn’t coping well, or if she lacked skills, it’s important to make sure he or she has the lacking coping mechanisms and skills before returning to college to try again. Too often parents send kids back to college after a crisis without addressing any of the underlying issues that led to the crisis. Most of the time students with unresolved issues end up in crisis again. 

Be kind: If your child has big college dreams and comes home feeling defeated, your disappointment or anger are just salt on the wounds. Warmth and patience will help your child and you. 

But don't be a pushover. Allowing your adult child to get away with bad behavior will have your family stuck in a rut indefinitely. Being kind doesn’t mean letting your young adult run amok. Boundaries and rules are important tools for helping you son or daughter re-group. 

Melissa Deuter, M.D., is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.

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