Understand Your College Student Better By Knowing These 3 Fears

FALL 2019! Are you ready?? College is one of those things that I don’t think we ever feel truly ready for even when we’ve tackled our to-do’s and made sure all of our ducks are in a row!!

In my practice, I get to see the other side of getting ready. The thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about what is and isn’t possible. I’ve summarized the top 3 fears that I see in rising college freshman and how parents can best support their teenager’s emotional and mental well-being during this time.

FEAR #1 What if I can’t make it academically? What if I can’t cut it?

This is probably the greatest fear of each student I see. Since they were younger, they have noticed that school gets harder with each passing year so it makes sense that they would feel college will be harder than high school. And no matter how college is happening, there is some sort of pressure on their responsibility to do well—whether it’s a scholarship, a personal loan or pressure from parents who are paying. If it’s a scholarship, they know they run the risk of losing it. If it’s a loan, they know it’s a lot of money and if parents are paying, there is the fear of letting you down. You may think your kids don’t think about these things but they do. I speak to a lot of kids who talk about this and when I ask if they talk to their parents about it, the answer is usually no.

Sure, it’s okay for your kids to have some concept of the money, the risks, etc; I think it’s good for kids to start to get a concept of this at this point in their lives. Still, if this is focused on too much, it tends to lead to anxiety rather than responsibility. The best way to support your rising college freshman is to build them up.  Encourage your child to be thinking about their strengths, not the things they are afraid of. Remind them of their successes. Remind them they are not expected to be perfect and it’s okay to make mistakes. When I remind kids of this fact in my office, I watch their nervous systems relax. But honestly, hearing this reassurance from their parents has an even greater impact.

Fear #2 What if I don’t meet friends? 

So, this one is tricky because this will be one fear they may not talk to you about. I think this is a hard one for teens to open up about, but most every person I have ever seen head off to college is scared about this.  I have watched kids deny this fear to their parents and even to me until a more vulnerable part of them was able to acknowledge it. They may hyper-focus on how they know 1 or 2 people already there or that are also going, but deep down there is a fear they won’t find their people.

So how do we support them? I think understanding how kids cope with this fear could be helpful. I see teens ease this fear by surrounding themselves with the friends they already have. So many times, parents want to spend those final moments with their kids and may even get frustrated because their kids just want to be out and away from home with friends, at parties, etc. The truth is that I don’t think kids are scared of losing their parents (they know their parents will be there no matter what). They are not as sure about their friends so they do what they can to solidify these close bonds to take with them and to create confidence that they will have friends once they are at school.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t try to spend time with your kids before they head off to college, but I think it’s important for parents to understand that the excess time away they spend with their friends is part of the preparation for this next phase of their life. I encourage the families I work with to let their child know they want some family time before they leave and schedule it and let the rest of the time be theirs.

Fear #3 What if I am not ready? 

College is one of the many rites of passage we have in this country that signifies that a person is moving from childhood to adulthood. Everyone says, “college was the time of my life”, which is a set up for kids to fear: what if it isn’t mine? What if I’m not  happy and it turns out that I am not really where I need to be? What if I get too homesick?

Kids hear about the pressure, the excitement, the fears, the opportunities from a very young age. They hear stories from their own parents and other adults about what college will be like, what to watch out for, and what to take advantage of. Messages like: “it’s the most free you will ever be”, “Beware of freshman 15”, “You’ve never had homework like the work you will get in college.” These beliefs get into kids’ heads and it can be hard for them to figure out how they are really feeling about school and even the time leading up to it.

The best thing you can do to support your child is to try not to talk too much about your own hopes and dreams for them. They know you want good things for them. Let them have their experience. The little stuff is important. Let them choose their own sheets, toothbrush, organizational boxes, etc. When they start to talk about their fears, just let them talk. Resist the urge to try to fix it. Just listen. Find other people to talk to who are going through what you are. There’s a Facebook group called “Grown and Flown” which is a great resource for parents of college students. You will find tons of support and listening ears in that group.

Each month you will see information like what you read today because these are the things we care about at Bridge Box. We are more than just a care package. We are guidance for both parents and college students. We are guidance that kids can’t always get from their parents (not because you don’t have it, but because they need to hear it somewhere else). We are ongoing support and encouragement during the tough times!! Each month, your child will get the fun snacks they want plus valuable insights and questions to keep them feeling empowered and ready to face life in college.

QUESTIONS? Don’t be afraid to ask if you have any questions about this article. We want to be as supportive as we can. Also, want to hear about something specific? Let us know and we will write about it! Upcoming articles: “How to support your college student during their first month of school” & “Vaping, Juuling, & Dabbing, Oh My”.

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Carey J. Cook, LPC

Carey J. Cook, LPC

Carey J Cook is a Licensed Professional therapist in Asheville, NC. She has a private practice and is the co-founder of Bridge Box which was inspired by her work with college students. In different capacities, Carey has provided education and therapy to college students and families for over a decade. Carey seeks to understand and support college students during this phase of life and provide tangible tools to students via Bridge Box.