There’s nothing like throwing hundreds or even thousands of new students together on a campus for the first time to create some moments of high drama. The swirl of anticipation and the heightened emotions make for the perfect breeding ground for unintended slights, crushing disappointments, and interpersonal conflicts. These can escalate so high and so fast during orientation that not a few college administrators will begin whispering under their breath: “I can’t wait until classes begin.” Academic work is a wonderful distraction from any drama that has reached a fevered pitch. But it takes a few weeks for students to settle in and realize how much work they actually have to do in college to stay afloat. Until mid-terms begin in earnest a few weeks down the road, freshmen often have a false sense of freedom and leisure. So, they pay more attention to the relationship, dorm room, orientation, club, or drug/drinking incidents than they deserve, at least from the perspective of an adult observer.
Having advised students for decades and spent my fair share of hours calming new students who were sure they couldn’t live another second with their roommate or who were crushed when they went too far in the alcohol/drug/sex arena and felt humiliated before every one of their new friends right at the beginning of their college career, I can say that some of the best advice you can give your children is that they stay calm and rise above. Here are some suggestions to help them do that:
- Listen to the whole story patiently, reciting back what you hear in your own words to check your understanding. Hurt feelings, humiliation, embarrassment are likely at the bottom of it, which points to a deep-seated fear that they will never recover, that their college career is over.
- Point out to them, if appropriate, that we all make mistakes, and most of what happens in the first week of school will seem like a distance memory by the time mid-terms hit. Whatever they are experiencing is probably short-term and fleeting. This won’t work for everyone though.
- See if they think this is something they will remember when they think back on their college days from the ripe old age of 40. Sometimes purposeful distancing in time works like a charm.
- Ask what will make them feel better. At this age, it is important for students to begin developing reliable mechanisms for raising themselves out of gloom and doom and getting perspective, something adults can do rather automatically for the most part. This helps with the much-touted resilience and grit, the latest buzz words for what students lack.
- Encourage them to share stories of stupid or dramatic things others around them are doing. Those can lead to a good laugh.
- Send them a care package. There’s nothing better than getting a box of snacks or whatever is meaningful to your child to make them feel loved.
As it has become popular to say, the struggle is real. Or at least it seems all too real during dramatic transitions in our lives. Gaining perspective, sharing stories, finding humor, and soothing their injured selves will help them regain their composure and perspective and develop that all-important grit and resilience.