For Parents/Family Members
The transition to college is a very exciting time in a young adult’s life, but it can also be very scary, unfamiliar, and even overwhelming for both the student and his/her family. When people think of ways that parents or guardians can support their college-aged students, the emphasis may immediately turn to financial support. However, the social and emotional support that parents or guardians can provide may be just as crucial to student success. Having the encouragement and guidance of at least one supportive person is a major factor that contributes to resilience among college students. Maintaining this connection while your student is away at college will likely put the family’s mind at ease.
This web guide will cover a range of topics from general wellness strategies to mental health issues that college undergraduates may face. The purposes of this web guide is first, to emphasize wellness and prevention of mental and physical health issues and second, to give a more complete picture of challenges (and some potential solutions) relevant to college undergraduates across the nation and specifically those attending college in the Tri-City Area (i.e. Claremont, La Verne, Pomona). This web guide will also include a list of resources families can access to support their college student during this time of transition.
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a. Roommate Challenges
c. Time Management
d. Managing Finances
e. Stress Management
f. Realistic Self-Appraisal/Self-Esteem
g. Learning Disabilities
h. Identity Issues/Diversity
i. Sexual Activity
j. First Generation College Student Status
k. First Time Handling Medical Care
a. Pre-existing Mental Health Issues
b. Anxiety/Anxiety Disorders
c. Harmful Relationships (Domestic Violence/Stalking)
d. Sexual Assault/Rape
e. Substance Abuse
f. Eating Disorders/Body Image Issues
h. Suicidal Ideation (SI) (Suicidal Thoughts)
Most people hold wellness as an ideal, but in order to truly achieve a state of optimal wellness or well-being, one must first understand how it is defined. Although there is no universally accepted definition of wellness, below are a few common definitions that point to the ideal of wellness.
“Wellness is a multidimensional state of being describing the existence of positive health in an individual as exemplified by quality of life and a sense of well-being”. i
“We view wellness as much more than just a state of physical health. It also encompasses emotional stability, clear thinking, the ability to love, create, embrace change, exercise intuition and experience a continuing sense of spirituality”.ii
As you can see, people may have their own intuitive understandings of wellness, so it is important for you to help your college student figure out his or her own definition. In this section of the guide, you will find simple strategies and useful resources that will help you become a better support system for your college student during his or her journey of outlining what wellness means to him or her.
As you read through this guide, it is important to ask yourself the following questions:
1) What can you as a parent or supportive family member do to contribute to your own wellness as well as that of your college student?, and
2) What tools do you and your student already have to promote wellness and which tools could you work on cultivating?
- Be a role model for wellness. It is important to remember that it can be difficult to get your college student to maintain wellness if you are not maintaining it as well. Start with making sure you are living a well and balanced life physically, emotionally, socially, financially, and spiritually. Once you have done this, it will be easier to have meaningful conversations with your student on this topic.
- Ask your student about his/her sleep patterns. Sleep, especially during college, is very underrated and is not a topic discussed enough with college students. A lack of sleep can cause many health and/or academic issues for college students and it is important that college students get an adequate amount of sleep to maintain a well-balanced lifestyle.
- Talk with your student about alcohol and drugs. Regardless of whether or not they have been exposed to these before college, it is something that they will inevitably encounter during their college experiences. The adult figures in a college student’s life play a role in shaping the attitudes and behaviors he/she develops about these substances.
- Encourage your student to become knowledgeable of the resources and programs on campus that promote health and wellness. Explore the school website together so that you can also be aware of these resources.
- RNCentral.com provides an article that offers tips for college students in order to maintain health and wellness during their educational experiences. The subject areas include diet, exercise, sleep, sexual health, illness, stress, mental health, study abroad, and other miscellaneous topics. This is also a great resource for family members to be aware of, because it covers the essential factors that can affect a college student’s well being.
- The Harvard University Center for Wellness provides tips for students in the areas of emotional, physical, intellectual, behavioral, spiritual, and social wellness. It is important for family members to understand the different areas of wellness, so you can help your student achieve wellness in all areas.
- Meditation Instruction: mind-body techniques for increasing health and wellness.
1. Healthy Eating
Many college students are away from home for the first time, and they have the freedom to eat what they want and abandon the healthier eating habits they may have had at home. They may also find themselves pressed for time and often resort to eating on the run and choosing less healthy options. It is important for family members to convey the need for proper eating habits during their student’s college experiences, as well as being knowledgeable of strategies in order to help their student maintain a healthy eating lifestyle.
Tips for supporting your student:
- Remind your student to never skip breakfast. Eating breakfast will give students energy and substance to take on their day. Suggest they keep healthy on-the-go options in their in-room mini refrigerator if the school allows it.
- Educate your student on proper portion sizes and the importance of eating balanced meals. Even if at times they do not follow this, it is helpful for them to know because they are likely to be more mindful when they eat their next meal.
- Engage in a discussion on a reasonable food plan that your student feels he/she can stick to while at college. Be sure to discuss fast food options and how often your student may need to utilize this option because of his/her school schedule. What is a reasonable amount per week that you both agree upon?
- Research what the dining hall food options are on a weekly basis to ensure there are healthy options for your student.
- Consider speaking with relevant school officials. Many colleges offer meetings with a nutritionist or the dining hall chef to discuss dietary needs and/or restrictions
Additional Resources on Healthy Eating:
- Book: Mindful Eating 101: A Guide to Healthy Eating in College and Beyond, Author: Susan Albers Psy. D., $13.71 on Amazon.com
College students are one of the most sleep-deprived populations. Sleep deprivation in students has been linked to lower GPAs, because sleep affects concentration, memory, and the ability to learn. Although college life can require many hours from your college student, remind your student as often as possible that health and well-being come first, and without this, he/she will not be as effective in completing other tasks or achieving goals.
Both sleep quality and quantity are important, so helping your student manage stress will also be important. You may be used to seeing recommendations that adults should sleep for eight hours a night. Even if your student falls short of this amount, make sure to emphasize that any amount of sleep is better than no sleep. Also, remind your student that no matter how overwhelmed he/she might feel, pulling an “all-nighter” or not sleeping an appropriate amount is not a good option, because he/she will ultimately be less effective and feel more overwhelmed.
Tips for supporting your student:
- Sleeping is connected to time management. Encourage/help your student connect the two. This may mean having them include consistent time for sleep in their daily schedules.
- Discourage the use of energy drinks. While this will help them stay awake, it will not help them stay focused and does not allow them to refresh their bodies.
- College student culture is such that going to sleep late and waking up late is an acceptable practice. Regardless of whether or not this shift happens to your student, help him or her see the importance of 6 -8 hours of sleep minimally (and perhaps a 30-minute nap during the day).
Additional Resources for Sleep:
It can be difficult for college students to find the time for exercise amongst their demanding class schedules, co-curricular activities, on- or off-campus employment, and their busy social calendars. Exercise will give your student the energy to maintain all of these activities while reducing stress and helping your student study for their academics more efficiently. If your student is living on campus, his/her eating habits may change as well due to the availability of all-you-can-eat dining halls. Exercise can help curb the excessive weight gain during college.
Tips for supporting your student
- If your student is having a difficult time making exercise a priority, tell him/her to go to class in his/her gym clothes in order to go to the gym in the afternoon. Or, the student can go to bed in his/her clothes so that hitting the gym is the first priority in the morning. Help your student to set a goal for 30 minutes a day.
- Encourage your student sign up for an exercise class or intramural sports if he/she is having a hard time scheduling exercise during the day. This automatically builds exercise into your student’s weekly schedule.
- Remind your student that he/she can sneak in exercise during the day by biking to school, walking the long way to class, or taking a walk with a friend in between classes. Suggest more outdoor activities when hanging out with friends.
Additional Resources for Exercise
The newfound independence afforded by the transition to college life may be liberating and exciting, but it can also be a bit scary for new students and their parents. As much as your student may not want to admit it, he/she probably misses home or their old lifestyle as a child and teenager to a certain extent. They are also likely to be very excited about the start of a new chapter in their lives. This topic can be particularly hard to navigate for parents who want to stay involved but also allow freedom for the necessary process of developing an independent sense of identity. The key is to make sure that your student knows he or she is loved and supported, and part of the expression of that love and support is to allow autonomy when needed.
- Write, call, or plan visits periodically to check-in with your student:
- With all of the new activities, coursework and other extracurricular commitments your student may be involved with, he or she may not have the chance to call or communicate as much as he or she would like to or as much as you would prefer. Be proactive by initiating communication. As you probably know, there are multiple methods of staying in touch these days: calling, Skyping, writing, texting, Tweeting, and Facebooking, just to mention a few. Having a regular time each week to talk or Skype may be a good way to establish a mutual agreement about when to get in touch. Arranging a time to physically visit your student will give both of you something to look forward to and will provide the opportunity for you to see more of your son or daughter’s new environment and let him/her know you are interested in the life he/she is creating. Also, be sure to ask your student for his/her school address so that you can send mail, gift cards, important documents, etc. Sending mail and packages will be especially helpful if your student is going to college out of state.
- Ask open-ended questions:
- This will allow the opportunity for your student to raise issues and facilitate a more open-dialogue. “Yes” or “no” questions may arbitrarily limit the discussion to topics that you have experience and exclude the experiences that your student might like to talk about. By staying open and listening in a non-judgmental manner, your student may develop a greater level of comfort in sharing with you in the future.
- Reinforce positive change:
- As much as possible, encourage the productive and proactive habits that your student develops. Whether in the academic, personal, or professional realm, your student will likely appreciate that you care about the effort he or she is making. No one is perfect, so this does not mean that you can’t discuss areas of concern or difficulty, but you may develop a healthier and happier relationship by acknowledging the behaviors that are good for your student.
- Allow them to express their feelings about school:
- Be clear that your student is in school of his/her own accord and, as such, has the freedom to openly discuss the feelings associated with that experience. It may be helpful to remind yourself and your student that nothing is 100% good or bad. This way, you can both recognize and expect some mixed feelings to be within the normal range of the student experience.
- Be realistic in your expectations for your student’s academic achievements:
- College-level work and evaluations are different from the high school environment. Students are learning to balance new skills and new independence while also managing longer-term assignments and larger volumes of work. GPAs reflect this. Consider that the standard for college honor societies is often a 3.2—this is significantly different from high school GPAs that rise above a 4.0. Many students spend unnecessary energy worrying about disappointing their parents, because they do not have the GPAs they had in high school. Help your student understand that you are aware of these differences.
- Try not to use money to control your student’s behavior:
- As hard as it may be to realize that your child is now becoming more autonomous, it is important not to exert too much influence over your adult child. While you will always be their parent or family member and can offer your own experience and advice, trying to control behavior with money or any other avenues is likely to backfire. Therefore, if you are going to give your student financial support, make sure this is done with no strings attached.
- Encourage your student to utilize support services on campus:
- There are many great resources, activities, events, and services available on campus. Thus, even though you and your family are likely a great source of support for your student, he/she may also benefit from taking advantage of everything that is available to them. Ask your student if he/she is aware of or have utilized resources on campus and if not, you can offer support in helping them find and benefit from these resources. Be prepared to offer suggestions for resources as a proactive measure or when your student admits he/she is struggling.
- Give your student room to make decisions independently:
- A big part of college is learning how to function within a new and different community. Let your student find his or her own way. That does not mean you have to stop being a parent or guardian; it just means you have to trust that the time and energy you have put into being a parent or guardian for the last 18 years has adequately prepared your son or daughter to make the right choices. Communicate that you respect his or her decision-making authority and are available to offer support.
- Create a partnership with your son or daughter’s institution:
- Invest some time in getting to know your student’s institution and the programs and services that are available to him or her if needed. For example, if your son or daughter lives on campus, make it a point to meet the Director of Residential Life. The faculty and staff are there to help guide your son or daughter during the college journey. Getting to know and creating a partnership with these school officials can only further develop a support network for your student.
In college, not only are most students living away from home for the first time in their lives, they are also often sharing very close quarters with an individual they may not know very well. This new living situation may be fun and exciting but can also pose many challenges that they have not encountered before. Even the most easygoing and friendly students may have some disagreements with their new roommates. The most common sources of disagreement include levels of cleanliness, personal space, guests, sleeping hours, study patterns, food sharing, and alone time. Also, your student may be very excited to live with a good friend; however, this may not always be the best choice for a roommate, as differences of opinion inevitably will arise. Your student may want to maintain close friendships with some individuals with whom he/she does not live with to make sure support is available outside that of the new living situation.
Tips for supporting your student:
- Encourage your student to develop a system based on mutual trust and respect with a new roommate. Ideally, they will become best friends. More importantly, they develop the trust and respect that will allow them to be good roommates.
- Think of yourself as a coach. Although you will have the urge to jump in, remember this is part of their training for life. Coach them through the adjustment and occasional discomfort. This may mean: a) allowing your student to vent frustrations, b) posing possible solutions when inevitable annoyances do arise, and c) encouraging them to inform housing staff so that they can help as well.
- Remember that conflict is normal and an opportunity to learn. College housing programs have systems in place to help students address and work through roommate conflicts. Often this process involves weighing both sides and helping them understand how they each contribute to the conflict.
- The following website addresses roommate conflicts and explores options of how your student can confront and communicate with his/her roommate. It also explains the common mediation process used by resident assistants: http://www.slc.edu/studentlife/residence-life/roommate-conflicts-confrontation,-communication,-mediation.html
- The following website is targeted for parents who are looking to help their college student with a roommate conflict. It gives examples for how parents can help their student think through some of the issues that may arise between roommates: http://www.collegeparents.org/members/resources/articles/helping-your-college-student-reduce-roommate-conflict
Compared to what your student is accustomed to - even the most academically rigorous high school environments - college will pose some unique academic challenges and may require a complete reorganization of your student’s approach to schoolwork. Typically, college academics require more critical thinking, more independent work as well as more group work, and rely on the student to be responsible for material that is not covered in class. In addition, assignments are generally more demanding than what your son or daughter may be used to. Taken together, these changes allow for more freedom of thought and the opportunity to explore new content areas that may be of particular interest to your student. However, he/she may also require a period of adjustment.
Tips for supporting your student:
- Reassure your student that he/she is fully capable of completing the work. Encourage a realistic appraisal of the workload, the use of peer study groups, as well as the utilization of his/her professors’ office hours.
- Encourage your student to bring test grades and paper grades to professors and academic advisor, so he/she can get some help with making good use of feedback.
- Regarding grades and career aspirations: encourage your student to reflect on his/her interests and skills, to reflect on whether they overlap, and to think about what might have to change if they do not overlap. For example, a student who is interested in a medical career may have poor skills in chemistry, excellent writing skills, and great skills with public speaking. In this case, the student needs to reflect on whether skill-building exercises in chemistry are possible and will help lead him/her to the desired career, or whether he/she may have to re-think career interests, in light of actual skills.
- Encourage your student to take advantage of the tutoring program and academic support center on campus if he or she is struggling with a particular subject. Emphasize that these connections should be made early in the semester. Most campus tutoring is free of charge.iii
- Advise your student to make regular appointments with his/her academic advisor and the career center on campus. Conduct your own research on what services these offices can provide your student and relay this information to your son or daughter.
- The following website contains tips to share with your student on adjusting to college/university from high school: http://powertochange.com/students/academics/highschool/
- The following website provides information on how parents can identify if their college student may be at-risk academically and what they can do to help: http://www.collegeparentcentral.com/2009/11/is-your-college-student-academically-at-risk/
One key element of success in the college environment is effective time management. Without it, many college students find themselves enduring an overwhelming amount of stress. With the changes in academic structure, it becomes even more crucial for students to motivate themselves and stay on top of their work and other responsibilities. For example, for every hour that your student is in class, he or she should be spending three hours studying or doing homework outside of class. Thus, time management is not only about efficiency on tasks, but also about carefully considering which activities contribute to long- term goals and are worthwhile and which may be unnecessary or creating a negative impact.
Tips for supporting your student:
- First, encourage your student to get a planner (and use it!). Encourage your student to keep a written or electronic calendar, to check it throughout the day, and to move events from one day to the next if the event is not completed. If the student is having major problems with time management, have him/her set an alarm, reminding him/her of important appointments.
- Talk to your student about prioritizing schoolwork and other important activities and to think about long range planning as well.
- Talk to your student about breaking large tasks into smaller ones. When you hear about your student feeling overwhelmed, ask him/her what the smaller building blocks of each assignment might be. What can be accomplished today? What can be done tomorrow?
- All colleges have an office that provides support, training and counseling on time management. Encourage your student to find out what office that is and consult officials for tips on time management. Be sure to also research the resources available on campus so you can better support your student and engage in discussion.
More useful tips for time management and more effective study habits can be found online at:
College may be the first time your student may have to manage financial matters on his/her own. Before he/she steps onto his/her college campus, it is important for them to have a sufficient understanding of the most important elements of managing finances and how to successfully do so while also attending school. Without the proper guidance, it can be very easy for new college students to overindulge in unnecessary items or improperly keep track of important financial documents.
Tips for supporting your student:
- Teach your student how to budget and keep track of his/her money. This can be as simple as helping him or her to create a monthly budget to meeting with a financial advisor.
- Help your student research the local eateries and businesses that give discounts to college students. Taking advantage of such offers can help your student save any extra money he/she may need for something more important.
- Discuss the importance of financial security with your student. Remind them not to give out important numbers such as his or her Social Security number, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and/or pin numbers unless it is secure.
- If your student doesn’t have one already, help him/her open a bank account.
- Be sure to explain the advantages and disadvantages of using credit cards. Talk with your student about limiting the amount of credit cards they have. Create a plan with your student for what situations warrant the use of a credit card. Explain the benefits of having “good credit” when it comes to purchasing a vehicle, a home, etc…
- If your student has student loans, encourage them to make an appointment with financial aid to get an orientation of their overall financial packet. This may help your student gain a better understanding of how their student loans will affect their overall finances.
- The following link helps students recognize their financial habits: http://www.scholarships.com/resources/campus-life/money-management/money-management-for-college-students-learn-to-recognize-want-vs-need/
- The following link covers topics such as student banking, credit cards and investing: http://studentfinancedomain.com/money_management.aspx
The changes that your student encounters in college will most likely bring a mixture of fun and excitement, but they will also bring some stress. Students may perceive higher levels of academic competition, social and peer pressure, and a greater perceived importance of their performance for future career and life goals. All of these factors can contribute to feelings of being overwhelmed or “stressed out.” Of undergraduate college students, 30.5% reported stress as the number one impediment to their academic performance.iv It is important for family members to be able to recognize when their college students may be dealing with a high level of stress and to know how to help.
Tips for supporting your student:
- Despite the potential increase in stressors, the more consistently students can prioritize sleep, exercise, and good nutrition, the better they will likely be able to handle stress as it arises.
- Help your student come up with a plan to make sure his/her needs are being met both physically and emotionally and encourage healthy ways of looking at challenges and set-backs in his/her academic endeavors and other areas of life.
- Remember, healthy eating and exercise are major factors in reducing stress. Engage in discussion with your student about how these can remain a priority.
- Listen! Be someone they know they can talk to when they are experiencing stress. Keep an open mind to their situations and act as a support system so they always know they can come to you if they need someone.
- The following link addresses ten ways to manage stress while in college: http://powertochange.com/students/academics/managestress/
- The following website provides information on how to reduce, prevent, and cope with stress and provides of list of strategies: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/stress_management_relief_coping.htm
Self-esteem can make or break a student’s college experience. Many people base their self-esteem or self-worth strictly on their external possessions or achievements, a recipe for disaster since many of these things are out of the individual’s control. Low self-esteem can be a side effect of the challenge for peer acceptance. It is important for family members to help their college student find qualities within himself/herself with which he/she is content and from which he/she can build.
Tips for supporting your student:
- Discuss if your student tends to compare him or herself to others; emphasize that everyone is coming from different life experiences, and thus, they are impossible to compare.
- Point out that we only have access to the image that others project to the world, we and do not know really how they are truly feeling inside. This type of discussion may help your student to better understand that even if it seems like everyone is better off than he/she is, it is impossible to know the depth of one’s circumstances without really getting to know that person.
- Make sure to express unconditional acceptance of your student regardless of his/her performance in school or other issues he/she may be experiencing. Even if they don’t always admit it, they do care about your opinion of them.
- Research the triggers that can lead to low self-esteem within the college student population. If your student becomes involved with any of the triggers, you should be more equipped with how to be supportive.
- The following link is an article about parental expectations and how too high of expectations can affect a student’s self-esteem: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080815130429.htm
- The following link discussed taking charge of your own self-image as a college student: http://www.collegebound.net/content/article/self-esteem-and-the-college-student/19583/
- This following link compares the characteristics of individuals with high self-esteem to those with low self-esteem. It also suggests ways for individuals to improve their self-esteem and how to make affirmations: http://studenthealth.uaa.alaska.edu/YourMentalHealth/SelfEsteem.htm
Some individuals may have already been diagnosed with a learning disability early in their educations, and although it may seem that college is an opportunity to progress academically, make sure that your student gets the assistance that will help college be a rewarding and successful time for them. Other students may even discover they have a learning disability while in college. Students with a learning disability are more likely to need tutoring services and extra time to complete their degree.v That being said, students will have to adjust to not having the immediate or constant support of their parent or family in the college setting; however, families can be supportive of students as they develop self-advocacy skills and create an environment that is most conducive to their own growth and development.
Tips for supporting your student:
- If you wish to be involved and informed if your student is using the support services on campus, it is important to have a conversation with your student regarding your request. He or she will need to give written consent to the proper departments for you to be more involved in the support services’ processes.
- Offer encouragement to your student and be supportive of his/her choices if your student wishes to be tested for a learning disability while in college. Be an encourager in the process, but support your student taking the lead in decision-making.
- If you are just discovering that your student has a learning disability, do research on how you can best be a supportive parent to his/her situation, as well as research on how he/she can function most effectively with the learning disability while in college.
- Listen to your student and be aware of the cues he/she is sending you. Use this to gauge how much or how little he/she wants/needs your assistance.
- Encourage your student to utilize the resources on campus that can assist your student if he/she has a learning disability. These services are confidential and can provide the support your student will need while in college.
- This following link explains how parents can help their student with a learning disability succeed in college: http://www.universityparent.com/aic/2011/02/14/how-to-help-your-student-with-a-learning-disability-thrive-in-college
- The following link is a resource that parents can show their college student so that their student is sure to get the proper accommodations during their college experience: http://learningdisabilities.about.com/od/collegevocationalschool/a/advocate.htm
- The following link uncovers the myths that are commonly associated with learning disabilities for college students: http://www.ldonline.org/article/6142
As you and your college student are likely aware, identity and diversity are more than meets the eye. Even individuals who previously felt fairly certain of their identity and role in society may undergo a period of revisiting their view of themselves in relation to others. Allow space and support for your student to explore questions about his/her own identity. This may be particularly important if your student is a member of an underrepresented population, but anyone could potentially feel left out or unsure of exactly where to fit into the social structure. College is one of the most prevalent times during which an individual will go through the self-actualization process, because they will encounter and learn from other individuals who are different from them. How much or little other cultural norms were discussed in one’s home environment before the college experience can determine the level of stress an individual will develop from these transitional issues.
Tips for supporting your student:
- Listen to the concerns that your college student is expressing to you regarding identity issues. Try not to be judgmental in your tone. Remember, it probably took a lot of courage for your student to open up to you regarding these issues and you want to keep the lines of communication open.
- Educate yourself! It is important to remember that college students today are encountering a diverse group of people when they enter college. It may be helpful to research the current trends at your student’s institution in order to better engage in supportive discussion.
- No matter what your own opinion is, try to be supportive in your student’s own identity development and encourage him/her to come to their consensus independently. Assure him/her that you are there if he/she needs someone to talk to.
- Encourage dialogue about differences within your own relationship with your student and with the relationships your student has with others.
- The following link discusses gender identity issues: http://www.isna.org/node/186
- The following link discusses racial/ethnic identity issues: http://www.diversityweb.org/DiversityDemocracy/vol13no2/ortiz.cfm
- The following link discusses sexual orientation identity issues: http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/just-the-facts.aspx
- National Sexuality Resource Center website: http://www.nsrc.sfsu.edu
This is likely a very uncomfortable topic for young adults and parents alike; however, it is important to be open and willing to discuss safety and sexual health with your child if he/she comes to you about these issues (sometimes even if he/she doesn’t). It is important to know the research regarding sexual activity in college students. Students assume that 85% of their peers have had two or more sexual partners; in reality, this only rings true for about 28% of their peers.vi The assumptions college students have about sexual activity in college, much of it due to the media’s point of view, encourages many students to give in to peer pressure, because they want to live up to what they think is expected of them. It is also essential to remember that alcohol usage seems to contribute to risky sexual behaviors and the decision to have sex.
Tips for supporting your student:
- Prior to going off to college, you can help your student develop his/her own values while, at the same, time reminding your student of your family’s values regarding sexual activity. Engage in a conversation about what a healthy relationship should look like.
- Have a candid conversation about alcohol and safer sex, and about how binge drinking and other behavior related to substance use can lead to decisions that your student might later regret.
- Give your student options! Some college students may still be uncomfortable talking to their parents about their sexual activity. Encourage your son or daughter to find someone he/she can trust so that you can rest assured he/she is at least talking to someone regarding this topic.
- If you and your student openly discuss his/her sexual behavior, have a discussion regarding birth control, including birth control options.
- Have a conversation with your student about abstinence. Abstinence has a different meaning to different people, so it is important to discuss what it means to your student. This can be a difficult conversation to have with your son or daughter, so be open to hearing his/her thoughts.
- Tips and information for parents on communicating with your student about sexual activity: http://www1.umn.edu/parent/health-safety/relationships-sexuality/index.html http://www.rodale.com/college-sex-tips
- This following link is an article about bringing up sensitive sex topics with your college student: http://www.universityparent.com/2011/07/20/let’s-talk-about-sex-bringing-up-sensitive-topics-with-your-student
- Columbia school of Public Health: website that provides helpful information on topics such as sexual and reproductive health of college students: www.goaskalice.columbia.edu
Although family members may not be able to share their own experiences of college, the support of family members is critical to the success of individuals who are among the first generation in their family to attend college. There may be some additional support on campus as well, but the most important thing is to express the importance of the path that your child has chosen and to let him/her know that despite your lack of personal experience with the current endeavor, you are there to help in anyway possible. Being the first in the family to go to college, it is important to know that your student may experience an array of emotions during the experience, even possibly including as strong sense of responsibility to the family. These types of emotions could add stress to your student, so it is helpful for family members to understand what the student may be feeling.
Tips for supporting your student:
- Learn about the college process and what to expect. This will help you be a better support system for students as they go through their experiences.
- Be patient with your student and ask them to be patient with you. Remember, this is the first time for everyone involved to be experiencing college life.
- Encourage your student to communicate with you if he/she feels overwhelmed. Reassure your student that you believe in and are proud of him/her.
- Encourage them to utilize the resources and departments that are available to them on-campus that can also help them through overwhelming times.
- Factors that contribute to success among 1st generation students: http://dus.psu.edu/mentor/2011/02/resiliency-among-first-generation-students
- The following link provides information on the common feelings that first generation college students experience and how family members can be a support to them: http://www.counselingcenter.illinois.edu/?page_id=142
- The following is a website that provides information on being a first generation college student and additional support strategies: http://www.firstinthefamily.org/collegeyears/index.html
In addition to the many fun and exciting new experiences, there are many of the more mundane, daily tasks that your student may be handling for the first time. Understanding and handling their own medical care and appointments is one of the most critical of these tasks. Help your student explore the options. Young adults can now be covered on their parent’s insurance for much longer than in previous years, but be proactive with your student to make sure that there is a plan in place for once he/she is no longer eligible to be on your insurance policy. Many times, students have the option of being covered by the college institution in which they are enrolled.
Tips for supporting your student:
- Most schools will have a good student health insurance plan that your student can opt into, but you may also want to explore other options with your student.
- Research the Health Center on-campus and look into the services that they offer. This type of service is covered in the tuition cost and can provide you with a “peace of mind” while your student is going to college.
- Although it may seem to make sense to keep your student’s insurance card and other important documents safe at home, your son or daughter should have a copy of an insurance card with him/her at all times.
- You can help your student understand how to find an in-network doctor, but as much as possible, your student should make his or her own appointments, in order to develop an understanding of the process and create a network of health care providers in the area.
- Some parents prefer to schedule all of their students’ appointments when they are home on break. However, whenever possible, it will be more enjoyable and more empowering for the student to handle these things on their own. Also, this way when your student comes home to visit, you can enjoy your time together rather than trying to squeeze in multiple medical and/or dental appointments.
- Here is a brief article that further addresses some of the things that you as a parent should know and share with your student: http://www.universityparent.com/2012/03/07/health-insurance-for-the-college-student
- The following link provides information to parents and explains the importance of your student maintaining health insurance while in college: http://www.collegeparents.org/news/college-must-have-insurance-your-student
If your student is coming to college with a diagnosed mental health issue, it may require some special planning, ongoing support, and identifying treatment plans. As your student plans his/her schedule, your role is important, because you can engage in a discussion about realistic social and academic expectations. Also, you can help your student research the support systems provided by the institution as well as other local/community support resources.
Tip for supporting your student:
- Set up meetings with the campus support systems that are set in place for your student. Get to know their processes while they get to know your student before your student’s college journey begins.
- If your student was actively seeing a therapist before entering college, help him or her locate a therapist close by with whom he or she is able to engage in a trusting relationship during their college years. This is especially important if your son or daughter is not going to be attending school near home.
- Visit local support systems that are near the college. This will give your student comfort in knowing there are options available if needed.
- Take measures to maximize your student’s ability to excel in college such as creating a plan for treatment, making sure he or she has proper insurance, going over insurance restrictions, and discussing what to do in case of an emergency.
- If your student takes medication for their mental illness and you have been the one to monitor the dosage in the past, be sure your student begins taking on this responsibility before arriving at college. Be sure prescription(s) will be available to him or her, while at college. Please keep in mind that institutions do not have the ability to monitor dosage or dosage taking.
Anxiety is defined as a feeling of apprehension, fear, or worry. The feeling of anxiety is actually quite common and generally short lived. An anxiety disorder tends to be chronic and can have a significant impact on one’s daily function. Anxiety disorders tend to begin in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood.vii College can be a stressful time for almost all students. Many students are just beginning to figure out how to balance the many elements of college life. Anxiety can be a natural reaction to big life changes, and some level of anxiety may be necessary to help individuals take action toward achieving the goals they have set for themselves. As a parent or guardian, understanding the differences between anxiety and an anxiety disorder can have a large impact on how you can support your student if he or she is are experiencing a severe case of anxiety.
Tips for supporting your student:
- Help your student research methods of coping with stress/anxiety (i.e. journaling, exercise, meditation, eating a balanced diet) even if your student has not even commented on having such experiences. Modeling a lifestyle that includes engaging in stress relief methods can often encourage your student to try them as well.
- Let your student know that you are interested in his or her college experience, and remind them you are there to listen if he/she ever needs you. Acknowledge that you understand that college life can be stressful. Just knowing that your son or daughter has someone to turn to can help alleviate some of the stigma behind anxiety.
- If your student does begin to experience anxiety and it becomes frequent, encourage your student to seek professional help and support him or her with researching self-help strategies for dealing with anxiety.
- If your student is experiencing anxiety, it is important to research what causes anxiety and/or an anxiety disorder. Knowing what triggers anxiety is the first step in helping prevent it from happening again. It is also important to research the different types of anxiety disorders and to learn what type of professional help is most beneficial for each type.
- Help your student connect with the resources on their campus, such as the Counseling Center and Health Center, so that they can begin to create another support system. If your student lives on campus, encourage him or her to inform housing services of what he/she is experiencing.
- Anxiety Disorders of America promotes the early diagnosis, treatment, and cure of anxiety disorders. This is a great resource for parents who may have a student in need of treatment: www.adaa.org
- The Anxiety Disorders Resource Center provides questionnaires on different types on anxiety disorders to help your student narrow down what type of anxiety disorder he or she may have: www.anxietypanicattack.com
While your student is in college, it may be more difficult to “keep tabs” on any relationships your student may enter into. Creating lines of communication with your student and engaging in dialogue about the differences between a healthy and harmful relationship prior to entering college can play a significant role in your student’s decision making in regards to this issue. Showing that you take an interest in the relationships your student chooses to engage can create an open door if he/she needs someone. If your student experiences a harmful relationship, having a conversation with your student can be difficult. Nearly 38% of victims say they do not know how to get help if this were to happen.viii As a parent or guardian, it is important to be prepared to support your student if this was to happen and know about some resources to guide him/her towards in order to get the help needed.
- Your student’s partner is excessively jealous and emails and/or texts frequently
- Signs of depression or anxiety
- Your student stops spending time with other friends and family
- Your student begins to dress differently
- Your student no longer is participating in extracurricular activities
- You notice unexplained marks or bruisesix
Tips for supporting your student:
- Become familiar with signs/symptoms of harmful/abusive relationships. Often individuals in these relationships struggle to identify/see the signs because of the love/care he/she may have for his/her partner.
- Engage in dialogue with your student about what he/she believes a healthy relationship entails. Also, discuss the characteristics of an abusive relationship and if your student knows what to do if your son or daughter ever finds him or herself in such a relationship.
- If your student experiences a harmful relationship, the most important thing you can do for your student is to be supportive and communicate that the abuse is not his/her fault and that he or she is worthy of respect and love.
- If your student needs help getting out of an abusive relationship, work with him or her to establish a plan, involving campus police, the administration or the authorities when necessary.
- Additional tips and facts about abusive relationships and how to get help visit: http://www.loveisrespect.org/43-percent-of-college-women-experience-violence-and-abusive-dating-behaviors
- More advice for how to talk with your student about abusive relationships and helping them through if they are experiencing one: http://www.icadvinc.org/prevention/for-parents/talking-to-your-kids/
Sexual assault usually involves force upon a person without consent or is inflicted upon a person who is incapable of giving consent. Rape is a type of sexual assault and is any act of sexual intercourse that is forced upon a person without consent. Other types of sexual assault include unwanted sexual touching, sexual harassment, or other methods of forcible penetration.x Sexual assault can happen on any college campus, even if the campus is known to be safe. The risk of sexual assault may increase when alcohol or drugs are involved and/or having numerous sexual partners, especially on a college campus. Talking openly with your student about the risks of sexual assault due to excessive alcohol/drug consumption is an important step when preparing your student before entering college.
Sexual assault can likely come from an acquaintance, which can make it more complicated, confusing, and traumatic for your student if it were to happen. Also, it is common for a student who has experienced sexual assault to keep it to him/herself instead of reporting it.xi This means that as parents, guardians, and family members of a college student, you must be proactive in becoming aware of the signs and symptoms of sexual assault and the treatment of such an occurrence. It is important to know that those who experience sexual assault may also develop post-traumatic stress disorder at a later date.
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of Self-Esteem
- Loss of appetite
- Increase in substance usexii
Tips for supporting your student:
- Have conversations with your student about the definition of consent.
- Have conversations about safe sex, alcohol use, and the types of “date rape” drugs that exist (such as rohypnol, ketamine, and GHB).
- Remind your student to always use the “buddy system” when he/she attends a college party. If your son or daughter is going to engage in drinking alcohol, remind your student to never leave his/her drink unattended.
- If your student informs you of being assaulted, avoid placing blame and do not judge him/her. Provide your student with a safe space to talk, encourage counseling, encourage him/her to seek medical care (as needed), and remember that the student may need time to process.
- Return control to your student; let him/her make the decisions abut how to handle the situation.
- Be familiar with what the college or university offers in the way of support and counseling so that your student can feel empowered to take action.
- If your student is experiencing shame or guilt due to being a survivor of sexual assault, reassure him/her that it is not his/her fault.
Below are links to the Sexual Assault procedures for Cal Poly Pomona:
- California Polytechnic University – Pomona: Sexual Assault Procedures
- The following link discusses tips for students on how not to be a victim of rape or not to become a rapist: http://www1.umn.edu/parent/health-safety/sexual-assault-prevention/index.html
- The following link discusses eight prevention tips to avoid rape and sexual assault: http://womensissues.about.com/od/rapesexualassault/a/10-Safety-Tips-To-Avoid-Rape-Sexual-Assault.htm
- Local resource center that focuses on sexual violence treatment, counseling, and prevention: www.projectsister.org
- Columbia school of Public Health: Website that provide helpful information on topics such as emotional health of college students: www.goaskalice.columbia.edu
Some experimentation with drugs and drinking may be within the range of normal experience for college students. Engaging in conversations around safe levels of alcohol consumption and the risks of experimenting with drugs is an important conversation to have with your student, especially during this transition period. If you begin noticing that it seems to be causing an issue in your student’s quality of life and/or is interfering with his/her ability to complete daily activities or other school work, then you may want to gently address the issue. It is important to note that many college students begin abusing drugs as a coping mechanism for other struggles or hardships, and it is important for parents or guardians to recognize unusual patterns of behavior and intervention tools if necessary.
- Tolerance for the substance over time (increased amounts)
- Problems with withdrawal?
- Problems in cutting down or controlling use?
- Reduces time spent on other activities
- Continues using even though he/she is aware of negative side effects?
- Use of larger amounts over time?xiii
Tips for supporting your student:
- Prior to going off to college, honestly and openly discuss your views and your student’s views around alcohol and other substances and the risk factors. Use this as an opportunity to have an open discussion versus a “you better not” talk.
- Regardless of your view or their view on alcohol and other substances, is important to be familiar with the college/university policies around alcohol and other substances. Level of strictness and consequences will vary at each institution, especially the alcohol policy. It will be important for you and your student to understand how the university will/may respond.
- Look at your student’s college website and research what programs/workshops on being offered that create awareness to students about drug and alcohol abuse.
- While some experimentation and use may happen, it is important for parents to be familiar with signs of dependency or abuse. If it gets to this point, seek advice and/or help from a professional.
- General tips to keep in mind when discussing alcohol usage with a student: http://www.collegeparents.org/members/resources/articles/eight-points-parents-speaking-students-about-alcohol
- Alcoholics Anonymous World Services: http://www.aa.org/
- National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence: http://www.ncadd.org
- National Families in Action: www.nationafamilies.org
An eating disorder is defined as an obsessive attitude to food and is classified as an emotional disorder that manifests itself in an irrational craving for, or avoidance of, food. Types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge eating, and compulsive overeating. Eating disorders tend to result from other underlying issues someone may be going through and often result from a need to control.xiv Furthermore, the college environment can also bring added pressures, which can bring on a development of disordered eating and body image concerns, if one does not already exist. Many eating disorders may tend to emerge between the ages of 18 and 20. Also, because there are different types of eating disorders, some are not as noticeable as others.xv One way to help prevent your student from developing an eating disorder is to try and be a positive and healthy role model for your student with your own dietary habits.
- Fasting and/or calorie counting
- Binge eating
- Obsessive exercise patterns
- Avoidance of eating meals in social settings
- Obsession on body shape and weight
- Distorted view on oneself
- Weight fluctuations
- Swelling around cheeks or jawxvi
Tips for supporting your student:
- Discuss the dangers of dieting with your student. As an alternative, promote an overall healthy lifestyle. When discussing this, put an emphasis on health, not the physical characteristics of his/her body.
- If you sense your student has developed an eating disorder, try to use “I” statements when talking with your student about what you have observed. For example, “I am concerned about you.” Stay away from sounding accusatory by using “you” statements, such as, “You are making me concerned.”
- Be ready for your student to be defensive and/angry if you approach him/her. This is a common reaction, and it is helpful if you remain calm even if your son or daughter becomes upset.
- Give your student hope for recovery. Positively reinforce improvements he/she makes in their journey to recovery.
- Encourage your student to speak with a counselor on campus while at college, especially if they live on-campus and do not have easy access to family members. Promote professional help as a positive step in the right direction.
- National Eating Disorders Association includes stories of recovery, information on treatments, and additional information for caregivers: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/information-resources/
- National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders provides general information on all types of eating disorders and information on support groups: www.anad.org
- Something Fishy is a website that provides information for family and friends of those with eating disorders. It also has online support options such as chat rooms and web boards: www.somethingfishy.org
Depression is defined as a disorder showing symptoms such as a constant feeling of hopelessness, lack of energy, poor concentration, and/or a lack of sleep or excessive sleep. Depression is a treatable condition; however, it is important to know that not all forms of depression can be prevented.xvii While in college, some level of difficulty, instability or even mild depression may be normal at a period when so many things are in a state of change or instability. However, if it seems like your student is having trouble managing his/her daily life or is increasingly overwhelmed, it may be a sign for help.
- Excessive sadness, anxiety, guilt, or anger
- Excessive self-criticism and pessimism
- Withdrawal from others and loss of motivation
- Excessive crying
- Use of alcohol and other drugs
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Lack of energy
- Past family history of depressionxviii
Tips for supporting your student:
- Be aware of your family’s mental health history and engage in an honest conversation surrounding this topic. This can play a role in early intervention or detection.
- If you believe your student may be experiencing depression, address your student and express your concerns and observations in a caring and loving tone.
- Despite the potential for differing perceptions, the most important thing is to communicate with your student is to try and make sure he/she understands he/she does not have to manage everything alone.
- Avoid phrases such as “cheer up” or “pull yourself together.” This will only make him/her feel worse and become less likely to open up to you.
- Most schools offer free counseling sessions and other support that may help to prevent more serious problems from forming. Familiarize yourself with what your student’s college campus offers in regards to counseling and wellness programs.
- If your student lives on-campus and you notice signs of depression, relay your concerns to the residential life department, so they can also look out for signs.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness is a nonprofit organization that provides support to those with mental health disorders and their families. They provide information on training, support groups, and education on mental illnesses: http://www.nami.org/Content/ContentGroups/Press_Room1/20041/August3/Mental_Illness_Prolific_Among_College_Students.htm
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance is a website that provides information on finding support groups in your local area: www.dballiance.org
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK is a hotline that is available 24 hours a day, even for family and friends. They will be able to talk to a trained professional who can guide them in their intervention.xix
Suicidal ideation refers to wanting to take one’s own life or thinking about completing suicide without actually having a plan to carry out one’s thoughts.xx It is also a symptom of major depression. If you suspect your student may be having suicidal thoughts, it is important to ask your student directly, and if he/she is, take it just as seriously as someone who has plan. Many times, when a student expresses having suicidal thoughts, he/she is seeking help because of feelings of not being worthy of life and a desire to the end the pain he/she is experiencing. Carefully responding to a student with suicidal ideations is key, in order to provide your student with the appropriate professional help.xxi
- Talking or writing about death or dying
- Expressing hopelessness
- Looking for ways to kill him or herself (access to pills, weapons, etc.)
- Dramatic changes in mood • Increase in alcohol or drug use
- Threatening to hurt oneselfxxii
Tips for supporting your student:
- Because suicidal ideation is a symptom of major depression, it is important to support your student in seeking professional help early on in hopes to prevent the depression from reaching this point.
- Become familiar with the protocol of your student’s institution when it comes to addressing someone with suicidal ideation. Find out what preventative measures it has in place to support your student.
- Use your intuition as a parent or family member. If your student seems to be exhibiting strange behavior, he/she talks as if they will not be around for much longer, show signs of giving away possessions, or resists making plans for the future, then you may want to discuss this.
- If you suspect that your student may be experiencing suicidal thoughts: ASK. Sometimes people worried that by asking they will push someone over. This is not the case. Often by directly asking, the opportunity is created to help or get help. If they do have suicidal thoughts, then ask if they have a plan in order to follow through on their ideations.xxiii
- When asking questions, show you genuinely care about your student and seek as much clarification as possible about what they are experiencing.
- If your student is struggling with suicidal thoughts, work with his/her college/university to discuss whether the student is better served by taking a break from school and focusing on getting help for mental well being.
- American Foundation for Suicidal Prevention provides information on prevention and support: http://www.afsp.org/
- The Trevor Project provides information of suicidal issues in the LGBT community, including prevention tools (1-866-4-U-TREVOR): http://www.thetrevorproject.org/
- Suicide Prevention Resource Center includes fact sheets on suicide by population characteristics: www.sprc.org
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Mental Health Services
- Student Health Services
- Wellness Center
- Student Health 101 Online Newsletter for Parents
- Akinc, H. W. (2010). The Praeger handbook for college parents. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Praeger.
- Kadison, R., & DiGeronimo, T. F. (2004). College of the overwhelmed: the campus mental health crisis and what to do about it. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Paulsen, K. J. (2005). Living the college life. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
- Savage, M. (2003). You're on your own (but I'm here if you need me): mentoring your child during the college years. New York: Fireside Book.
[ii]Master Glossary H . (2012, September 12). Pacific Northwest Foundation. Retrieved January 22, 2013, from http://pnwf.org.
[iii]Transition Year | Online resource center to help parents and students focus on emotional health before, during and after the college transition. (n.d.). Transition Year | Online resource center to help parents and students focus on emotional health before, during and after the college transition. Retrieved January 22, 2013, from http://www.transitionyear.org/parent/articles.ph.
[iv] Undergraduate Students: Reference Group Executive Summary. (2012, n.d.). Retrieved January 22, 2013, from http://www.acha-ncha.org/docs/ACHA-NCHA
[v](2011). College Students with "Hidden" Disabilities: The Freshmen Survey Fall 2010. HERI Research Brief, 1. Retrieved January 22, 2013, from http://www.heri.ucla.edu/PDFs/pubs/briefs/HERI_ResearchBrief_Disabilities_2011_April_25v2
[viii] New survey reports 43% of dating college women have experiences violent and abusive dating behaviors. (2011, September 14). Love is Not Abuse. Retrieved January 22, 2013, from http://loveisnotabuse.com/web/guest/pressreleasescurrent/-/journal_content/56/10123/193493/DEFAULT
[ix]Domestic Violence and Abuse: Signs of Abuse and Abusive Relationships. (n.d.). Helpguide.org:A trusted non-profit resource. Retrieved February 12, 2013, from http://www.helpguide.org/mental/domestic_violence_abuse_types_signs_causes_effects.htm
[x]Sexual assault - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (n.d.). Dictionary and Thesaurus - Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved February 12, 2013, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sexual%20assault
[xii]Sexual-abuse-signs. (n.d.). Supportive Sexual Abuse Recovery. Retrieved February 12, 2013, from http://www.soul-expressions-abuse-recovery.com/Sexual-abuse-signs.html.
[xx]What Are Suicidal Thoughts? What Is Suicidal Ideation?. (n.d.). Medical News Today: Health News. Retrieved February 12, 2013, from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/193026.php
This information was made possible because of the financial support and efforts of:
- Tri-City Mental Health Services
- California Polytechnic University – Pomona
- The Claremont Colleges
- University of La Verne
- Juan Regalado – University of La Verne
- Marla Love – Scripps College
- Moya Carter – Pitzer College
- Jennifer Marana – Claremont McKenna College
- Dr. Marcelle Holmes, Ph.D. – Pomona College
- Dr. Dan R. Tsuang, M.D. – Pomona College
- Lisa Lester – Consultant, University of La Verne
- Vanessa Kettering – Consultant, Claremont Graduate University