A while back, we took advantage of summer time to sit in on a few college orientation sessions targeted to new students. The experience reminded us of when we attended such sessions with our sons and daughters. We're glad our kids made it through relatively unscathed. College—academically, socially and emotionally—is not a piece of cake.
The parents who were present at one session heard from the director of Counseling Services, a person who is on the front lines (or perhaps more correctly behind the scenes) of college life. The director explained up front that parents have to understand a counselor cannot be all things to all people—and certainly doesn't have the time and resources to serve as a full-time mentor to one particular student. Ideally kids should come to college with a firm foundation of values already in place. Instead, however, too many youngsters come ill prepared or are seeking refuge from a bad situation back home.
We've already discussed how traumatic the transition from hotshot high school senior to lowly college freshmen can be. Even older transfer students suffer the pangs of new surroundings and anonymity. All of this is heaped on top of higher expectations, greater academic rigors and self-discipline
The director told her audience of anxious moms and dads that many new students come to her office because they're homesick or in the process of breaking up with their sweetheart back home or have just been dumped. That may seem petty to us older, jaded adults. But let's not underestimate the kind of disruption this can cause in our children's young lives.
A new student's family is relocating. Dad has just lost his job. Mom and dad are getting a divorce. The freshman college student—faced with a foreign environment—comes to campus carrying his own luggage plus all that additional family baggage.
Simmering under a calm exterior
Then, the director explained, there is the emotionally challenged student—who walks through her door and has forgotten to take prescribed medications. Or, heaven forbid, a student is the victim of violence. She can't eat, sleep or study. He can't concentrate, feels irritable and is unable to mix with others. Then serious decisions come into play. Should this student go home? Are mom and dad ready for such news? What would this leave from school do to academic standing, financial aid, the student's future?
School psychologists and public safety officials have told us how surprised we might be at the number of young people on any campus who have serious emotional problems simmering underneath a calm exterior. This may be indicative of society-at-large. Heaven knows we are a stressed-out, depressed and high-maintenance population. Furthermore, a college campus is a unique environment where people of all backgrounds, morals and values live, work and study in comparatively tight quarters.
To new dads and moms, when experts tell you to start preparing for college when your children are young, heed the advice. This is truly an important investment.