That time of year is approaching when kids go back to school. The biggest adjustment is made by the young men and women going off to college the first time, for their freshman year.

Making the transition to college is a big one. It encompasses all the stressful adjustments eventually faced in adult life--being responsible for their own scheduling, social life, health habits, and development. But at the same time those realities hit them, college kids start out in an emotionally fragile state, missing their old friends, old haunts, and the comforting knowledge that a parent is in the next room and available when things get tough.

Many freshmen go through a period of loneliness. For some, it can worsen into reactive depression that can be spotted by such symptoms as loss of appetite, lethargy, weight loss, inability to concentrate, and insomnia.

But most college freshmen make the transition quite well. Here's how you, the parent, can help your college freshman with the inevitable feelings of loneliness and insecurity during the first weeks away.

  1. Let her know you're still here for her. Make her feel secure that the channels of communication are still wide open, even though you might be miles away. Occasional texting and phone calls are reassuring. And these days, many parents Skype with their child once a week to give the college student a visual image that their parent is nearby.
  2. Focus on his efforts, not your expectations. Avoid putting undue pressure on your child to succeed. That doesn't mean not encouraging him to do well in school. But be realistic. Not everyone has to to be a brain surgeon, astrophysicist, or US Senator. Encourage your child to work up to his potential; don't push him to work beyond it. Let him see that you're proud of his successes.
  3. Encourage your child to be emotionally open. Let your child know that it's normal to feel fear and loneliness. Encourage your child to be open with new friends, who are all in the same situation. And if friends don't help, tell your college-bound son or daughter to seek counseling services, which are available on almost every college campus. The trick is to not let things get out of hand. Some simple counseling early in the game can head off serious consequences later.

Actually, for many moms and dads, their anxiety attacks are more intense than their son's or daughter's. Relax. That kind of anxiety and worry is perfectly normal, and you'll only feel worse by questioning your own feelings.

What could be more natural than to worry about sons or daughters after eighteen years of being in direct contact with them and being in control of their lives, more or less? They leave for college and, for the first time, are completely on their own. They are finding new friends without parental censoring and monitoring, riding in cars driven by someone you don't know, and being introduced to new lifestyles.

The important thing to remember that is you've done your job during the first eighteen years and have given your child a solid sense of self-worth and responsible citizenship. Chances are, your worries are unfounded. Your child will make decisions based upon the foundations you've given him or her.

But it's very important for your college freshman to know that if he or she should happen to make a wrong or foolish decision, no one at home is going to greet the tearful phone call with "I told you so" or reprimands. As long as a college student knows he or she can turn to a parent or parents at home when things get tough, and not face harsh judgments, chances are your freshman will roll smoothly through the first year...and so will the anxious mom and dad.

* * * * *
This blog aims to present psychiatric/psychological information to a general readership, offering insights into a variety of emotional disorders, as well as social issues that affect our emotional well-being. It includes the ideas and opinions of Dr. London and other leading experts. This blog does not provide psychotherapy or personal advice, which should only be done by a mental health care professional during a personal evaluation.

About the Author

Robert London, M.D.

Robert London, M.D., has been a practicing physician/psychiatrist for more than three decades.

You are reading

Two-Minute Shrink

Part II: Treating Anxiety in Pregnancy Without Meds

Relaxation/hypnosis and guided imagery effectively address anxiety in pregnancy.

Treating Anxiety in Pregnancy Without Psychotropic Drugs

Restructuring thought patterns, one aspect of CBT, can be highly effective.

Bridging the Gap between Primary Care and Mental Health Professionals

The mental health needs of patients often go unmet.