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First year of college can be psychological, emotional learning experience

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wauwatosa, Wis. - The first year of college is filled with challenges great and small. Parents face challenges, too, when it comes to long-distance parenting and learning to let go. Bob Riegert, a therapist at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital in Wauwatosa, recently answered some common questions families have about sending their children off to college.

What do parents need to know?

Parents need to play a supportive role and let their children know that they are there for them, and that they want to hear how their children are doing at school. But they shouldn’t try to micromanage their child’s life.

What is the most important thing for students to know?

That if you really feel you’re in over your head, reach out for help. When you’re away from home the first time, it’s easy to feel alone. But you’re not. There is almost always a hand’s that going to reach out to give you support, such as a roommate, sibling, counselor, teacher or residence hall director.

Do a lot of kids get depressed during the first semester?

Some kids deal with being away from home the first time better than others. Some struggle with depression and anxiety and are much more fragile. If a student goes to college with the expectation that they must fit in right away, it could be difficult. Students have to be able to accept their mistakes. And friends and teachers shouldn’t be afraid to offer that help if they see someone is depressed. They shouldn’t be embarrassed – they could be saving someone’s life by helping them to recognize and fight their depression.

Any other important lessons?

Students need to learn to manage time, how to handle relationships, how much to study and to handle peer pressure. Pay attention to your mistakes and learn from them. For instance, if someone stays out late, oversleeps and misses a test, they’d better re-evaluate how they are spending their time. If you make a mistake, it doesn’t mean your college career is over. You can turn it around. You just have to decide to do it before it gets too late.

That brings us to time management. What should kids know?

There’s nothing magic about college. Kids who haven’t been organized in high school probably will struggle. They won’t have Mom telling them to study and they’ll be scrambling at the last minute. But they can learn to be better organized if they concentrate. College is like being in a candy store, because there is so much going on – there are girls, boys, sports, movies, hanging out – but at some point you have to decide what you want to accomplish.

What about relationships?

People going to college for the first time have a lot of things to deal with all at once, so jumping into a relationship isn’t the best idea. Dating someone because you’re scared or lonely could add more stress. It’s best for students to go slowly and establish friendships rather than becoming intimate right off the bat. They should be OK with being unattached because that gives them a chance to find out about themselves before taking on any more responsibility.

Should I worry about my child using drugs and alcohol?

Hopefully you have had many talks with your student about these issues and they have learned what is appropriate behavior by now. It takes more than one talk to establish guidelines for responsible behavior; it takes repeated conversations as kids are growing up. Once they’re out of the nest, you have to rely on their judgment, although you can always reinforce the fact that you are there to help whenever they may need it.

What about roommate problems?

Roommates should be honest about what’s bothering them and try to find a compromise. If that doesn’t work, consult with the residence hall director or another objective third party.

Money always is a big issue. What advice do you have about that?

Debit cards that have a dollar limit can be a better tool for a student that a credit card. That way, as they’re learning to handle their money, they cannot go deeply into debt. I also think that it’s good for parents to check in on the student’s money situation periodically just to see how they’re doing.

How can I convince my child that it’s important to study?

Be sure to have them look at the big picture. The choices students make today will influence their options later.

If they study just enough to get by, then they’ll probably have a job that just allows them to get by. But if they want a better job and better opportunities, they have to put more effort into it.

About Aurora Health Care

Aurora Health Care is a not-for-profit Wisconsin health care provider and a national leader in efforts to improve the quality of health care. Aurora offers care at sites in more than 90 communities throughout eastern Wisconsin.

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Contact: Sue Pierman

Phone: 414-647-6432

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