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In just over a month’s time, thousands of recent high school graduates will be leaving the comfort of their childhood homes embarking onto a new college campus which will become his or her new home for the next four or so years. The college freshman has “officially” shifted from adolescence to adulthood and is now faced with new and different tasks than they experienced during the years of high school. Greater independence, self-responsibility, emotional maturity, and new and different social challenges are all simultaneously introduced which can be exciting for some, but overwhelming for others depending upon both the personality and previous experiences of the individual. Perhaps the most significant difference is that all of these new experiences are withstood without the comfort of their parents being close by for supervision and daily consultation.
Despite high school being a time of greater independence and favored autonomy from parents and although most have an internalized feeling of security and endurance, college introduces new and different experiences from any of the previous years. For example, college freshman are required to get themselves up every morning; schedule and manage their courses; do their own laundry; manage their own finances; set their own curfew; have a study schedule; balance a social and academic life; stay in shape; and contemplate their futures. Although exciting, the management of these tasks can also be stressful.
Research indicates that the most difficult aspect of the freshman year is not so much the academic challenges, but the adaptation to living in a new environment away from home. The highest drop out rate in college is during this first year as well as the greatest incidents of mental illnesses including depression and anxiety disorders. Physical illness is also greatest during this first year as well. The freshman year may be considered a mini rite of passage whereby the years following this one tend to be calmer and more enjoyable. This can be understood as due to experience and adaptation.
However, precautionary measures can be taken ahead of time to help the new freshman better adapt to this challenging year. Parents who assist their children in early preparation for the upcoming change have a significant impact on how their child will adapt to both leaving home and getting settled at college. In fact, and not surprising, the better prepared, the less likely the student will flounder once away from the familiarity of home.
The following are suggestions to help the college-bound freshman to best adapt to college life:
In most cases, after some normal bumps during the first year of college, the student adapts to their new developmental phase of life and actually enjoys coming home for visits with their families. In fact, many parents revel in the fact that the adolescent years are finally over and their son or daughter has evolved into a healthy adult. They may actually help you do the dishes and ask YOU how your day was.
Dr. Keith Kanner is a Licensed and Board Certified Clinical Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychologist and Psychoanalyst. In addition to a full-time private practice in Rancho Santa Fe, California, he is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine at the University of California San Diego where he teaches both human development and also trains medical students how to better understand and relate to their patients. He also serves as the Director of Clinical Counseling for La Jolla Country Day School in La Jolla, California, and is a Clinical Professor at The San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. Dr. Kanner also sits on the National Board of Directors for Kids Korps USA, which is the largest organization in the country that teaches children and adolescents the importance of volunteering to help the community at large. As a father of three children, he is also a dedicated baseball, football, and soccer coach.