This is for all of you parents out there who have wondered what your daughter is really up to during that tumultuous freshman year of college. The positive thought is that probably won’t be as bad as you had imagined. The negative thought is that she is still your little girl, and any of those things are as bad as they seem. Whatever you discover here, remember while every eighteen year old is different, these are things that commonly occur during that first year.
What should my child expect during the first few weeks?
If your daughter is living in a traditional dorm setting, you can count on her calling numerous times, (probably collect) to report how many new bad habits she has discovered in her roommate. If you are unlucky enough to have a raised an only child, she will have a tougher time learning to share a small cube shaped room with a stranger. The most common roommate problems can be solved if each party can learn to give a little. Encourage your daughter to take that first step in fostering a positive relationship with her roommate. With at least two girls sharing a room, and probably twenty girls sharing a bathroom, privacy is limited. Making sure that your daughter understands how limited is important when she is planning for college. If she is particularly shy she may want to make other housing arrangements.
With the large selection of class schedules that most colleges and universities offer, your child isn’t likely to have a school day like ever before. There will be days where she may have only one class, or even no classes. This free time can feel a little overwhelming at first, like you are doing something wrong, even though you aren’t.. Before sending her to school, educate her on college classes. Make sure she knows that they won’t be like they were in high school, and that a lot more independent reading will be expected of her.
Your daughter will inevitably be offered an opportunity to apply for a credit card during the first weeks of school. This can be a learning opportunity for her, as long as you have taught her to manage money and as long as she is mature enough to handle the card responsibly.
Many freshman students begin their first semester with a party or two. This is normal, and if your daughter tells you otherwise, she is probably lying. However, attending a couple of parties the first week of school is actually beneficial. Not only will it help your child meet loads of new people, she is less likely to overindulge in alcohol this early in the semester. She hasn’t learned to party on a school night yet, and not wanting to miss classes, she’ll end up leaving early.
Will my daughter be safe?
Every college campus that I have ever visited has had a campus security department that monitored parking lots and buildings. Your daughter will go places other than class and her dorm though, and those are the times that she needs to be prepared. Make sure that she is aware that most attackers will flee if she makes enough noise. Encourage her to enroll in a self defense class that focuses on confidence building and self preservation.
Your daughter needs to make sure she really knows anyone she with whom she intends to pursue a romantic or intimate relationship with. With the amount of hormones flying around, and the need to prove oneself, this is an ideal time for relationships to become violent. Even the most sensible and confident girl can fall into the trap of an abusive relationship. This is particularly true if she is far from home, having a hard time adjusting to college, or hasn’t had a lot of romantic experience before now. If you suspect that she is in an abusive relationship, don’t corner her on the issue. The best way to get her to talk about it is to drop subtle hints that you know what is happening, and that you don’t approve. Remember, she was still a teenager just a few months ago, and teenagers are masters of the art of subtlety.
How do I relate to my daughter now that she has left home?
This won’t be easy. You are used to being able to tell her when she may come and go, what she may do, and who she me see. Now that she is off on her own, these decisions, as well as many others, will belong to her alone. If you can avoid giving advice that she didn’t ask for, she will appreciate the effort. Not only will your daughter learn how to make her own choices, but she will learn that you trust her judgment. This is more important than ever because while your daughter is making the transition to adulthood, you will be the first thing she looks at for an example.
When she comes home for the weekend, remember that she isn’t the same girl you sent away last fall, and that she will treat you a little differently as well. Her main effort during these visits will be to prove how grown up she has become. She should still pay you the curiosity of letting you know when she will be home at night, and in turn you should include her in family decisions more than ever before.
You may be thinking that you are the last thing she looks to as an example because she pierces her nose, dyed her hair, and now only dresses in black. These are just phases that will pass like any of the other phases you have encountered. Learning to express oneself is a major part of the freshman year experience, and she will need to explore other ways of life. Never fear though, by the time she graduates she will be long past this behavior, and you can relish in the fact that she is turning out just like you.
What about sex?
Your daughter may decide to become sexually active during her first year of college. This is a fact that no parent really likes to think about, but it is something you should consider. If you aren’t comfortable talking to you daughter about safe and healthy sexual relationships, make sure that she has resources to learn about it on her own. If you are comfortable enough to discuss this with your daughter, help her understand that she needs to protect not only her body, but her heart and soul as well.
If you suspect that your daughter is acting in a way that goes against the values of your family, gently remind her that you raised her differently than that. Though she may protest, yell, and scream when you say this, it will stick with her, and eventually she will care enough about your opinion to change her behavior. If it is something she feels strongly about, you may have to convince yourself that she is an individual and learn to accept who she is becoming.
What about drugs and alcohol?
Most college students have ample opportunities to experiment with drugs and alcohol. How much and how often they use these substances will vary greatly between students. Some may be addicts before sophomore year, but most will indulge on the weekends and behave themselves the rest of the week. If your child is honest with you about these experimentations, be reasonable. Yelling about their behavior will only encourage them to rebel more than they already have. If you are comfortable with what your child is doing, embrace it responsibly. For example, if you want to encourage responsible alcohol use, allow your child to have a glass of wine with dinner at home. If you know that your child drinks on the weekend at school, send them plenty of Tylenol and a printed guide of hangover remedies.
Drug use is much less acceptable to society, and drug charges can be far more serious than charges regarding a minor in possession of alcohol. If your child decides to experiment with marijuana or other drugs at school, prepare them for what can happen if they get caught. It won’t be the most comfortable conversation, but make sure she understands that drugs are much more readily available in college, and how the consequences from a drug charge will affect their future. Drug charges can affect future opportunities for military service, housing, employment, and various other things.
There will be plenty of opportunities for your family to still enjoy being together, and in a few years she will probably expand that family. For the time being though, you should concentrate on what you can do to help her through school, and what you can do to help her continue to mature. Just remember, no matter how distant she may seem from you right now, you are closer to her than you can begin to imagine.