For many students, college is an incredible experience. After a tough application process, young people get to become somewhat independent from mom and dad, discover their passions, meet a future spouse, and forge friendships they’ll cherish for the rest of their lives.
For others, however, college can be a stressful, anxiety-inducing, and lonely experience.
Managing the workload of classes, having to become friends with an entirely new group of people, and evaluating risky situations often lead to the proliferation of mental health issues for a relatively large group of students.
This guide is for students and parents alike, to ensure a productive and memorable college experience. We’ll share advice from successful and thriving college students and their parents, who know what it takes to set up a healthy college experience for their children.
Let’s get started.
Parents: Have the “Upward Conversation” with your college-bound child.
In today’s hyper-connected and ultra-competitive environment, students are constantly pushing themselves and preoccupied with their phones. Meanwhile, parents work hard to put food on the table and pay for the inevitable college tuition bills.
Before your child leaves for college, sit down with her and have the “Upward Conversation.”
So, what should this conversation comprise of?
- Keep the conversation entirely positive.
- Establish an open line of communication with your child. She should know that once she’s in college, you will always be there to speak with her about any problems. This open line of communication sounds obvious (after all, you’d do anything for your child), but the verbal affirmation is something the student will remember in times of trouble.
- Say why you’re proud of your child. Young people are constantly bombarded with criticism and expectations through social media. A few lines of compliments and positive feedback go a long way for your child’s self-esteem.
- Mention a hardship you once had and how you dealt with it – this hardship doesn’t need to have occurred during your own college experience. Your child knows you as “mom” or “dad,” but you have your own history and struggles, just as any other human being does. This signals to your child that all hardships are challenges waiting to be addressed.
- Affirm to your child that she shouldn’t keep her emotions bottled up. This is unhealthy.
This conversation might be the last truly substantive communication you have with your child before she leaves for college.
This ends high school on the right note.
Students: Embrace some form of structure during college.
Enjoying college doesn’t mean you should forsake commitments to academics, your community, and yourself. College is a fun experience, but it’s more exciting when you’re setting yourself up for success.
Structure encourages self-improvement and sets a standard for personal success.
Here’s how you can establish structure in college:
Envision a successful version of yourself in four years. Think of these questions when brainstorming:
- What does this person do?
- What are some aspects of this individual’s personality?
- How does this person approach problems?
- Is this person physically fit? In what way?
- What are critical aspects of this person’s social life?
- Does this person work any internships or jobs?
Once you know the type of person you want to become, reverse engineer this success. Write down the answers to the following:
- What are hobbies I want to explore?
- Name activities that will help me cultivate new aspects of my personality.
- What challenges will help me improve my mentality toward adversity?
- Name some exercises, fitness challenges, and workouts that will help me become physically fit.
- What type of people do I want to hang out with, and how can I meet them?
- Name professional and volunteer experiences that will boost my profile.
After naming the hobbies, activities, workouts, social experiences, and professional opportunities you want to explore, write them down.
Writing things down keeps your head clear and organizes your commitments in front of you.
- Use a planner and keep it in your backpack. Consult it when new plans arise.
- Google Calendar is your best friend. Check it every morning.
- Fill out a physical calendar and check it when you brush your teeth.
Organization is the key. It will keep you from overthinking.
The objective is to establish goals and keep tasks manageable.
Parents: Don’t leave your child on an island.
Call your child every week or two.
You don’t need to have an hour-long conversation with your child – in fact, he doesn’t even need to pick up the phone. But calling semi-regularly lets him know an open line of communication is always an option.
Furthermore, you can send a care package.
No matter the contents, care packages are a useful reminder of what the student has in his life.
If your child feels homesick, the care package serves as a piece of home he can enjoy in college. And if your child just wants to avoid home, the contents of the care package will prove useful regardless.
Contents of a care package could include:
- School supplies
- Tasty treats
- A note of appreciation
- Items that make your child laugh
There’s no need to break the bank – sending useful items that aren’t expensive is fine.
Students: Take advantage of your blank slate.
For those of you who are looking to start anew, it’s important to experience college the right away.
And in order to experience college the right way, you need to surround yourself with the right people.
There’s a common saying: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” While not a scientific fact, there is some truth to it. That is, the people you closely relate to will affect your mood, attitudes, optimism, and mentality toward adversity.
How do you ensure the people you surround yourself with are good for your mental health? Evaluate your social life with the following questions:
- Do my friends accept me for my personality, yet push me to better myself? You want friends like this.
- Do the people around me excessively peer pressure me? College is about experience, but excess peer pressure could get you hurt.
- Have my friends been there for me in times of trouble and stress? Good friends will offer support during sunny and stormy storms.
- Do my friends have qualities that I admire and want to emulate? If so, work to embrace these qualities.
- Will my friends speak with me if I need someone to talk to? And will they honestly criticize me when I’m wrong? Honesty and access are two keys to relationship success.
You want to stay away from narcissists and negative people. Over time, their poor attitudes will erode your enthusiasm, curiosity, and positivity.
Need help finding the right people to hang around? Act on these critical observations:
- Observe how your social group treats servers, retail professionals, and other employees. Treating these people the right way, despite not needing to, is a sign of goodness.
- Evaluate how your group treats guests and new people. Treating vulnerable individuals with kindness and empathy is a positive attribute.
- Remember how your group treated you at first. Were you accepted for your personality, or something else you had to offer (perhaps money, athletic skills, good looks)? You want friendships founded on timeless qualities.
When meeting new people, you should always be open-minded. Remember to introduce yourself with a smile, eye contact, and a firm handshake.
College is your chance to learn from and become a part of different groups of people with their own stories and struggles. This opportunity is a gift.
Parents: Buy Your Child a Good Book.
While you can’t force your child to read books during college – even books she should read for her classes! – give her a good book about self-improvement, balance, perseverance, or stoicism.
Nothing inspires curiosity like holding a good book and diving into the pages that will bring you into another world.
Here are some good books to gift your child. In parenthesis is a subject each book covers:
- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (stoicism)
- The Secret by Rhonda Byrne (the law of attraction)
- Shoe Dog by Phil Knight (perseverance)
- How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (building relationships)
- Think and Grow Rich (self-improvement)
- Bhagavad-Gita by Sage Vyasa (Indian philosophy)
- The Art of War by Sun Tzu (strategy)
- The Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle (good living)
While some of these books are advanced, your child (and you) should approach each one with an open mind.
There’s no need to absorb all of the teachings and tenets of each book, but your child will definitely pick up on concepts that will improve her life.
Students: Show gratitude.
Gratitude is a powerful emotion. It keeps you grounded and aware of the blessings in your life.
When times get tough in college, think of some things you should be thankful for:
- Caring parents
- A good friend
- A warm meal
- Running water
- The opportunity to get an education
- A bed to sleep on
There are millions of young people around the world, let alone thousands of Americans, who will never get the opportunity to sleep on a full stomach and pursue their dreams.
When you are able to think positively about your surroundings and count your blessings, you will take each challenge as an opportunity.
Conclusion: Staying Mentally Healthy in College
While college is a fantastic opportunity for students to expand their understandings of the world, some students can feel overwhelmed. Parents and students should focus on communication, structure, and forming friendships with the right people.
Staying mentally healthy doesn’t require esoteric solutions; rather, it takes sprinkles of discipline and self-awareness.
Talk about problems. Hang around positive, supportive people. Keep a planner and write down your commitments.
Good luck. College is an incredible next step. If you have any questions about succeeding in college, shoot us a message by clicking here.