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Your high schooler may not be as prepared for college as you think.

Nov 02, 2021

My first year in college I was depressed. Sure, I attended classes and school activities, played frisbee golf and participated in clubs, but I was still depressed.

Few others knew what was happening inside of me, as I wasn’t sure why I retreated into sleep more often than I needed to. Naps and sleeping made my bed a refuge, a place of solitude as I tried to grapple with understanding who I was in this new environment.

And no one, including my family and friends at home, would have known that I would have this challenge. By everyone’s standards, I was confident and prepared.

But I was only prepared in a familiar environment where I knew the rules and expectations. When the environment changed, I had to figure out more clearly who I was. I had no idea how much my community shaped my actions and self-perception, rather than having a clear, independent understanding of my identity and what gave me meaning and purpose.

College had different social rules and different expectations. I wanted to fit in without losing myself in the process. In the midst of the struggle, that’s when the depression kicked in.

My college story is not unique. The effects of the identity disorientation can be seen in a variety of ways.  

The classic “freshman 15” can be a way to cope with isolation and depression by eating. In contrast, bulimia and anorexia increase in some universities as young women try to fit in. Binge drinking and excessive partying may seem the norm in some university cultures, but that, too, is a means of aligning with the group identity. On the perceived positive side, some students take medication to keep awake studying and push themselves to excel, even at the cost of their health, or develop OCD tendencies.

We often excuse these some of these behaviors as a normal part of the college experience, as part of the self-discovery process that college brings. But that doesn’t mean that these strategies are healthy or good.

  • What if your student had a better understanding of who they are BEFORE they went to college?
  • What if they clearly knew what behaviors aligned with their personal values, so they could seek out others with similar values?
  • What if they had a clear understanding of what really gives them meaning and purpose?

These are difficult things to teach as a parent, and it usually doesn't happen elsewhere, either. It takes being intentional about providing these ideas and skills.

So how do you help prepare your student for college life?

  • Help them identify their personal values by looking at current behaviors.
  • Give them permission to think and explore – even if it sounds like they are veering away from what you think. Trust them as individuals.
  • Teach them to ask good questions about themselves and others.
  • Help them develop a clear understanding of what gives them a sense of meaning and purpose. 
  • Sign them up for a course that provides specific tools and strategies to build their EQ and self-awareness.

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