Beat The College Blues

Student with books in library
It's about one month into the new school year, and a lot of the freshmen who couldn't wait to start college, can't wait to go home every weekend — or even go home for good.

And with technology allowing parents and children to stay in constant touch, both are having a harder time letting go.

Roberta Roth, a family counselor and clinical social worker in White Plains, N.Y., offers advice on The Saturday Early Show.

Letting Go
"Constant contact makes the student very insecure," Roth says. "They start to believe they're incapable of making decisions without mom or dad, even if they'd like to do so."

Her advice is for parents to trust that they did a good job for the past 18 years raising their kids, and allow them to grow up.

"As for how much contact there should be, ask your son or daughter what she or he wants," Roth says. "Be there for them always, but give them space and let them come to you. They know how to find you, and they're not shy about getting in touch."

Cell phones make it tempting to be in touch with children all the time. But Roth encourages parents to remember that if they need you, they'll know how to reach you.

"Don't call and bug them all the time, checking in, offering advice, etc.," she says. "A lot of things they have to find out for themselves. Part of what the college experience is all about is fostering independence, and they can't do it if you stay so involved in their lives. So let them figure things out on their own, make their own choices and their own mistakes."

If, as a parent, you are having trouble letting go, Roth advises finding new ways to fill the void left by your child.

"Explore and figure out what you really want to do with your time," she says, "whether it's taking classes, re-evaluating your job or starting a new one, exercising, or dancing. Look at the change in your family's lifestyle in a positive way, rather than a negative way."

Dealing With A Child In Panic Mode
Roth also has advice in case if your child panics and wants to come home.

"A good thing to say to him is, 'We need to talk about it, but not while you're so upset,' " she says. "If you continue to talk about it while either the child or the parent is in panic mode, it's only going to feed the hysteria. And if you let them drop out of school after several hysterical phone calls, a couple of months will pass and the kid will say 'Hey, why did you let me drop out so fast?' "

She says it's your job to calm your child down.

"Tell him, 'Treat yourself to some music, go to a movie, go for a run, and gather yourself,' " she says. "Don't cut him off abruptly or hang up on him because that will only increase his anxiety level. Be supportive and make it clear you do want to talk later, but don't get caught up in the hysteria."

Home For The Weekend
Even though it is good to be open to visits, Roth says you should discuss in advance how often you will see each other.

"Have an open-door policy; you want the child to feel welcome," she says. "But if you see them coming home every weekend and not integrating into school life, try to find out what's going on. During the weekend is when kids are socializing, and that social growth is part of college life — learning how to get along with all kinds of people.

"Say to them, 'What's happening? Why don't you try staying there on the weekends?' Brainstorm with them because you can't give teenagers straight advice; they won't listen. Just be there and let them tell you what's happening. Don't push or they'll close up."

Coming Back Home For Good
If it seems like they're serious about wanting to transfer or drop out, Roth recommends encouraging them to spend another semester and, if that doesn't work, having an exit strategy.

"If they want to drop out, plan for it," she says. "Drop difficult courses, research schools they can transfer to, give them support. If there are courses they are struggling with, see when they can drop them, but try to get some credit for them. The goal is to transfer with an acceptable grade or an incomplete, not a failing mark."

The goal for parents in this situation is to transfer the child to another school, or a feeling of failure may set in.

"Once you have momentum of getting into the college years," she says, "it's deflating to kids' ego, and they feel like a failure if they drop out completely. It's your duty as a parent to encourage them to find a place where they're going to be happy."