For those sending a child to college in September 2016, it is now time to turn your attention beyond your child’s acceptance letter to the jitters of preparing for the first year college experience. I have spent the last 30 years working with families, and it has been through this experience that I have come to identify the 10 stages of transitional stress that families encounter between May and December of their college bound year. I call it the “Graduation Leap,” and it takes your child across the chasm from the shores of childhood to the brink of adulthood. Since there is a lot of important information on this topic, it will be continued for the next few weeks. In this blog, I will outline the first five stages. In the following weeks, I will continue to discuss the remaining stages and how to employ good preparation and coping skills when dealing with transitional stress.
Stage 1 — Separation Anxiety: The weeks surrounding your child’s graduation may be filled with a heady blend of satisfaction and nostalgia. Romantic attachments may intensify, particularly if separation is imminent. The air around your child is charged with the electricity of unknown changes to come.
Stage 2 — Special Attention: As the summer winds down your child will become more aware that they are really going to college. Some kids manage to block the reality of their impending departure until they start packing. It is at this point that they begin to acknowledge
The approaching separation from family and friends, as well as the comfort of the support system of the high school environment. Reassurance from you will help them understand that they have their family’s support and love regardless of the outcome of their college experience. Lessening the pressure for them, or at least recognizing and understanding it, makes their success in college much more likely.
Stage 3 — “Getting to Know You”: The freshman academic program may also generate severe stress. The courses a student takes in this all-important first term have a strong influence on how their first year goes; students should avoid taking too many courses or enrolling in courses that are too advanced, either of which can make a first-term freshman miserable and discouraged.
Stage 4 — “The Honeymoon”: Freshmen arrive on campus with a myriad of expectations influenced by such films as “Animal House” and “Revenge of the Nerds.” Perhaps the strongest influence comes through carefully choreographed admission recruitment weekends that draw your child into a heightened sense of excitement and euphoria by making them feel as if they are part of campus life while not experiencing actual day-to-day living conditions. They are ready to be enthralled by everything they see, which is good because there are indeed wonderful things to see and experience, although some students may feel they are not happening fast enough.
The Honeymoon stage is also a time when many students experiment with or extend their experience with alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and/or sexual activity. Campus life presents them with more opportunities to do so with two additional factors: they are not under the watchful eye of their parents, and they are influenced by older college students and more experienced peers.
Stage 5 — “The Honeymoon’s Over”: As freshmen settle into campus life the realization dawns that much of college consists of hard work coupled with some frustration and disappointment. Nothing, however, will prepare a freshman for the shock of those first papers and quiz grades because they are almost always respectively tougher and lower than what a student was used to in high school. This can be particularly difficult for students who ‘coasted’ through high school, and some may encounter unexpected hardships during this stage.
In next week’s blog, I will discuss the final five stages and how to best deal with transitional stress. The moral of this blog is “forewarned is forewarned.”