Your teen has just started college. You are excited. You are anxious. You may be a little sad.
You may think that once you’ve survived drop-off day, the worst is over, and your near-panic attacks will begin to fade away.
Not so fast.
Five classic college freshmen calls
I do not relish being the bearer of bad news, but I want you to be prepared for what probably lies ahead. Here’s just a little heads up so that you can mentally arm yourself for a call home that’ll likely sound like one of these.
“I hate my roommate!”
There are many variations on this singular theme, but your kid will probably have just Had It one day. Their roommate, who seemed great at first, has now played their Jekyll and Hyde card and is suddenly suuuuperrrr annoying because of (spin the wheel): surprise overnight guests, excessive partying or sleeping, weird habits, being a slob, using your kid’s stuff or sneaking their food.
What to advise: Communicate with the roommate first, calmly and maturely. If there’s no improvement, talk to your resident advisor next. Their job is to help mediate conflicts just like these.
What to avoid: Immediately calling the Housing Department and demanding a roommate switch. Don’t be that parent.
“Uhh…I just failed my midterm.”
For many teens and their parents, this one is a doozy. They may have entered college having never received less than a B in their entire educational lives. And a midterm failure is simply college’s not-so-charming way of saying, “Welcome to the real world, kiddo.”
What to advise: Go to the professor’s office during hours. Find a tutor. Form a study group. Assure them the sun will rise tomorrow, and that one failed test does not equal academic doom. (I promise they’ll get over it, and you will too.)
What to avoid: Calling the professor horrible names and/or emailing said professor or department chairperson and asking for a review of their exam grading. Again, DO NOT be that parent.
“Should I go to the ER?”
Similar to the roommate criticism call, the variations on this theme are plentiful. Possibilities include: Fever, extreme fatigue, potential sprain or fracture of a bone, strange rash, excessive vomiting — you get the picture, it’s not your first sickness rodeo. But it’ll seem more perilous because of the distance. Try not to panic.
What to advise: A trip to Student Health and/or some online research from a REPUTABLE source. Of course, anything life-threatening warrants a trip to the E.R., and it’s almost certain that they or someone they are with will know that.
The 1 am-5 am (depending on time zones) pocket dial call.
Your phone will ring in the dark of the night. You will see your child’s name appear. You will pick up and hear all static-y rumbling and dubious, garbled noises. You will immediately picture your child bound and gagged in the trunk of a car, being driven to a secondary location where a horrendous crime is about to be committed. You keep repeating your child’s name with no response. You hang up and call back and get no answer. You try not to hyperventilate.
What to advise: Remind yourself that real life is not a Taken movie, and there’s a 99.9% chance your kid (or someone or something else) has accidentally hit the Call button on their phone. They are completely fine and enjoying life, and you need just to take a few deep breaths and try to go back to sleep. (Easier said than done, I can personally attest to this. BTW, my daughter was fine and just on a crowded, early morning bus. Thanks for the cardiac stress test, though!)
“I’m so homesick.”
Depending on your teen’s temperament and stoicism, the sound of this call can span the emotional spectrum from outright tears and pleas to come home for the weekend to excessive complaints about gross food, dirty bathrooms, hard classes, feelings of solitude, all the way on down to just a rather astounding urge to talk to you for 90 minutes about Everything in Life.
What to advise: After empathetic listening and acknowledgment that the first few months can be problematic for almost everyone, you can gently and compassionately offer a few suggestions and then remind your child that they are brave, strong, and fiercely loved. Resist the urge to jump in your car and bring them home for a night or two.
For new college parents, the most important thing to remember is that your student should be advocating for themselves in any of these situations unless it’s a truly dangerous medical emergency. Talk to your child about problem-solving using the proper “Chain of Command,” starting with the lowest level in a line of authority, regarding any issue relating to campus life.
Calls home that seem like a CRISIS! in the heat of the moment, rarely feel that way just 24 hours later. When a student is highly stressed, they often forget about the abundant resources around them.
It’s your job to remind them about helpful things like talking to a friend, attending office hours, campus mental and physical health services, and sticking things out through uncomfortable feelings.
Do your best to nix the negative feedback and help them focus on how to move forward maturely.
And please, do not watch any of the Taken movies for the next few years, no matter how attractive you find Liam Neeson!
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