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03-12 Helping college-bound teens become emotionally prepared for the next phase of life

Posted in Behavioral Health

Helping college-bound teens become emotionally prepared for the next phase of life

The transition from high school to college can be an emotional roller-coaster for many teens. Adolescents standing on the cusp of adulthood can experience mixed emotions – on one hand, they will be excited to start a new chapter in their lives, while on the other, they will be worried about issues such as academic pressures, career, student loans and fitting in with peers. For adolescents who have never lived away from home, the thought of living independently can be an additional stressor.

According to past research, the departure of adolescents to college marks a “significant milestone” in a family’s life. The transitory period can be emotionally difficult for both parents and children. But more worryingly, the exhilaration of independence, typically experienced by many first-time college students, can induce them to engage in risky behaviors, such as experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and having unprotected sex. These vulnerabilities necessitate that teens receive adequate emotional preparation for college life.

Parents can help youngsters become resilient

Although parents may themselves be dealing with a range of emotions due to their children’s impending departure, they need to equip their teens with the necessary skills for facing the uncertainties of college life. The following attributes need special consideration:

  • Independent problem-solving: The Boston University had previously highlighted the perils of “helicopter parenting”, also called “snowplow parenting”, whereby parents constantly “hover over” children to solve their problems. This can make youngsters ill-prepared to cope with the social and academic rigors of college. Parents must take all steps to ensure that their college-bound teens become capable of independent problem-solving so that they avoid making rash decisions.
  • Managing negative emotions: According to a past survey which evaluated American students’ first-year college experience, 87 percent of them felt that academic preparedness was prioritized over emotional readiness. Majority (60 percent) students wished they had got greater emotional support before starting college. Teens need to be taught coping skills to manage negative emotions such as anger, disappointment, discontentment and solitude, which are common reactions to stressful situations.
  • Encouraging community initiatives: Teens must be made aware that despite their busy schedules, they must take time out for community initiatives, including volunteering activities. It must be emphasized that even a small contribution may make a meaningful impact in someone’s life. The outcome of these initiatives will create positive vibes and contribute to teens’ emotional well-being.
  • Giving perspective: Teens often feel that their problems and issues are bigger than what others are experiencing. Parents should adopt strategies which can help teens in putting things in perspective. Doing this will challenge youngsters’ normal viewpoint and make them understand that their problems may be insignificant compared to the obstacles which others have faced and overcome.
  • Resisting peer pressure: The pressure to “fit in” and appear “cool” can have a devastating impact on college students’ mental health and induce risk-taking behavior. Research has confirmed that “peer-related stimuli” during adolescence may prompt the brain’s reward system to covet risky behavior.
  • Attending orientation: To assure themselves and their children about what to expect in college, parents should participate in orientation programs specifically organized for this purpose. It will give them a chance to clear their doubts and ensure that their children will be able to adjust well.
  • Balancing communication: Parents may feel compelled to communicate constantly with their teens once college starts. However, children may feel overwhelmed if parents call them several times a day, send unlimited text messages and appear intrusive.

Managing college students’ behavioral health

Data from the annual report of the Center for Collegiate Mental Health (CCMH) showed that during the 2015-16 academic year, anxiety and depression were the top two concerns among American college students seeking mental health services. Moreover, 33.2 percent students had seriously considered attempting suicide, while 9.3 percent had made a suicide attempt.

The stressors of college life can expose teens to several behavioral issues. Experts at Sovereign Health of Rancho San Diego understand the importance of protecting teen behavioral health. Call our 24/7 helpline or chat online for more information on our behavioral health treatment programs for teens.

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