Back To School

Freshman Year, Nothing to Fear?

By: Justin Moll, MD

How many times have we uttered the phrase, “Oh man, get ready for college—best years of your life.” to a graduating senior? How many times have we glossed over the huge changes that college life brings because our own memories of undergraduate life are foggy and romanticized?

Are we missing our children’s unspoken fears and anxious thoughts? Are we completely undermining those that choose not to go to college and making those that can’t get into a university feel “less than” with our grand verbiage and privileged assumptions?

Don’t worry, I’m not here to guilt you about your child going to college. In fact, I think a child graduating high school and seeking higher education is something to be valued and even celebrated. However, I do think our society has exalted college above many other phases of life.

So much so in fact that our children are either disappointed when their school doesn’t live up to the hype, or shocked when a global pandemic strikes and shakes things up a bit, or at worst, silenced when they struggle with anxiety and trepidation over all the new options and choices that lie before them.

So what should we as parents do? How can we help our children pass freshman year?

Helping Your Child Keep Freshman Year Fresh

  •  Talk with them about the changes ahead. Sounds simple right? Maybe so, but your child very well may not feel like they can voice their concerns because everyone around them has only been talking about college positively. Ask open-ended questions that give them the opportunity to address their fears. A significant root of anxiety is the fear of uncertainty, and talking through the “unknowns” that college inevitably brings can make a big impact on your child’s mental state.
  •  Encourage productivity over procrastination. Going to college is about education at the end of the day. Remind your no longer little child that keeping up with their assignments at the beginning of their semester can prevent a lot of self-imposed stress later on. Remind them that going to class can be the remedy to quite a few ailments. They will likely build a lasting community in their freshmen classes—not to mention become better prepared for exams and assignments that lie ahead.
  •  Do Your Homework. This one’s actually for you, not them. Take a few minutes to learn about their college. Can you help them briefly look at a map to see where their core classes will be? Are there some free groups or organizations you could inform your child about that directly highlight some of their favorite interests or hobbies? Is there a local restaurant that you could buy them a gift card ahead of time?
  •  Instill truth in their mind before they depart. Remind your child that attending a university (of any sort) is a privilege. It is also, Lord willing, a very small portion of their life. Encourage them to not find their true identity in their popularity or their academic success. Speaking counter-culture truths to your child at any age or stage of life can help them not become defined by their perceived successes or failures.

College can be a time where your child can grow abundantly, develop lasting friendships, and take the first steps into their career. College could also be a time of loneliness for your child or simply, not the best time of their life. Either way, you can instill realistic expectations in their mind about their upcoming freshman year and encourage them to speak openly about the pressures they may be feeling or the fears they may be hiding.

If you do feel like your child needs more guidance on how to cope with these stressors, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. Our Behavioral Health team will be more than happy to engage with your family in our office or in a virtual visit. We are here for you and your wide-eyed college newcomer.

Until next time,

Dr. Justin Moll

Parkside Provider, Disney crier, and dad on fire

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