By Deanna Lynn Sletten
Your teenager is excited to begin college in another town or state and show you how independent she can be on her own. You’ve purchased everything she needs for her dorm room, helped her move in and left her there, feeling a little sad yourself. Only a day or two later you receive a phone call from her saying she is homesick and wants to come home. Now what?
Actually, feeling homesick is very common for college freshmen. According to the Dean of Students at Illinois State University, 70% of college students feel homesick in the first few weeks of school, yet only 5 to 15% need some sort of serious intervention. Within the first few days of freedom your teen has suddenly come to the realization that he not only is living in a new place where he doesn’t know anyone, but he is also responsible for his own laundry, cleaning, meals and schedule. This realization can hit a student hard and cause him to become homesick. The good news is there are many ways in which parents can help their teen adjust to his new environment and beat homesickness.
Keep a Positive Attitude – Homesickness actually begins weeks before the student leaves home as he anticipates the move and being on his own. This is when your teen begins to worry if he will like his roommate, how he will do in his classes and if he will make new friends easily. Parents need to keep a positive attitude when talking to their teen about these changes so their teen looks at the move as a positive one.
Validate Feelings – Validate your teen’s feelings before and after the move when he complains about such things as not knowing anyone, feeling alone or not liking some of his classes. Tell him you understand his feelings and use encouragement to help him see the positive side of going to the college he has chosen. Giving him the chance to express his feelings and validating his feelings can be encouraging to him and help him get through the first few difficult weeks.
Avoid Negative Comments – Try to be positive when talking about your teen’s college and new life. Don’t say things like “College food can be really bad”, or “I hope your roommate isn’t a troublemaker”. This will only give your teen more things to worry about before going and after he is there.
Meet the Roommate – In many colleges it is standard practice to let you know who your teen’s dorm roommate is prior to starting school. If you live close enough, try to have your teen meet the roommate before school starts. If you live too far away, encourage your teen to call or e-mail the roommate. If the two roommates can build some a rapport before school begins it will make the transition much easier.
Make a Scrapbook – Make a small scrapbook of your teen’s family and friends that he can bring along with him to school. This will help him feel like he brought a little bit of home with him.
Plan Visits – Make out a plan ahead of time for how often you will visit your teen at college or how often she will come home. This will make her feel more comfortable knowing she will see family at intervals but hopefully keep her from wanting to come home every weekend. You want to encourage your child to be involved with friends at school as well as being involved with family.
Use Technology – Almost every teen or college student these days are on Facebook or Twitter or some other type of social network. Use this technology to keep in touch with your teen and share pictures and daily occurrences. She may not feel as homesick if she still feels involved with everyday family life.
Encourage Sports and Activities – A good place for young people to meet new friends is through a sport or activity they love. Does your teen golf, bowl, play tennis or like to run? Maybe he likes chess. Encourage him to join a team or activity he loves to make new friends.
Send Care Packages – Everyone loves getting a package from home and so will your college student. Send homemade cookies or his favorite candy, some new socks, a book you know he will enjoy, a gift certificate to his favorite pizza place or any item that you think will make him smile. Encourage close relatives to do the same. This will make him feel remembered and special.
Visit the College Occasionally – If it is possible, try to visit your teen at college from time to time. Take him out to dinner, meet his new friends and let him give you a tour of the campus. Not only will it make him feel good, but you will enjoy seeing how well he’s adjusting.
Remain Calm if the Dreaded Call Comes – If your teen calls after a few days or weeks and says she wants to come home, don’t get upset or emotional. Talk to her in a calm, reassuring tone about what she is feeling and how she can solve these problems in a way that lets her stay at the college. Help her solve the problem or problems in a practical, adult way instead of rushing to the college to get her. If necessary, suggest she talk to the RA or a school counselor before making any rash decisions. In most cases teens are just reacting to one problem that can be solved and they are able to stay.
Be There for Your Teen – If your teen is having a difficult time making the transition from home to college life then it may be time to intervene. She may need to change roommates or to a different dormitory. Perhaps her classes are overwhelming and she needs to drop one or two. If you cannot find a solution and your teen is becoming depressed then it may be time to try a school closer to home where she will feel more comfortable. Everyone has a different temperament and personality and not everyone is ready to leave home right after high school. Be supportive and help her make a decision that will work for her.
Moving away to college is a big step for teens so don’t expect them to settle in right away. With some encouragement from you and by keeping in touch with friends and family, your teen will eventually make new friends and begin to enjoy his new college lifestyle.