The college years are a time of transition—for both you and your student. Students are exploring greater autonomy and learning from their experience. That does not mean that they don't still need your care and support. But the level and frequency of this support is likely to change as you renegotiate your relationship.
Ways to Support Your Student
All relationships are different, but certain attitudes and qualities may make more likely that your student will seek out, accept and value your support.
Consider how you can support and encourage without trying to control. If your student presents a problem to you, find ways to support them while not taking away their opportunity to learn to navigate adult tasks and decisions.
It's normal for students to experiment with new behaviors as they explore their freedom. Consider what qualities will make it more likely that you will be the person they will come to if they are struggling or get into trouble. A few that come to mind are patience, caring, unconditional love, an ability to contain immediate emotional reactions. For some students, college is a time of identity exploration and transition. Pay attention to who your student is becoming and foster open lines of communication to discuss these changes, if they wish.
Make sure to check in about their lives, not just their grades. How are they enjoying their living situation and extracurricular activities? How are they feeling socially? Try to be curious without being intrusive.
Listen for opportunities to encourage your student to attend to their physical, emotional, and mental health.
Students often enjoy hearing from their parents and look forwad to visits during convenient times of the year. In spite of your student's increasing autonomy, it is important for them to know that you are there to listen and provide support when needed. While your student's desire for contact with you may vary from week to week, if you establish a good foundation, they will come back to you when they are ready.
When to Consider Counseling
Most students will experience a downturn at some point during their college experience. This may be due to the stress of juggling academics with jobs and other commitments. Or it may be due to social stress. In addition, some students enter college with a history of mental health challenges, which may render them more vulnerable to stress.
If you are concerned about your student, the first step is to reach out to them and try to find out how they are doing. Approach this conversation with curiosity and caring rather than judgment or anger. Signs that counseling might be helpful could include markedly falling grades, persistent difficulty sleeping or eating, statements about exhaustion, anxiety or unhappiness, and more than normal social isolation. Students also seek counseling for substance abuse, eating disorders, conflicts with roommates, grief and loss, challenging family transitions, and suicidal thoughts.
What about Confidentiality?
Confidentiality is essential to establishing a safe and trusting therapeutic relationship. The University Counseling Center adheres to laws and ethical guidelines that govern our professions. While it is understandable that parents and families want to know how their student is doing, confidentiality laws and guidelines prevent us from sharing any information about your student without written consent, even the fact that they are in counseling.
While other departments can and do reach out to students who may be distressed, the University Counseling Center generally waits for a student to initiate contact with us. The reason is that if we contact a student at the request of a family member, that contact may be perceived as unwelcome and intrustive.
If you are concerned about your student's mental health, we encourage you to speak with them directly. It's also fine to ask your student how their counseling is going, without prying into details. Respect their privacy if your student prefers not to discuss their counseling with you.
Can I Consult with a Therapist?
Yes. Therapists are available to speak with you if you have a concern about your student. We can help you brainstorm ideas for speaking to your student and also let you know about our services and other resources that may be helpful. If you need assistance, please call us for a consultation or choose office hours with Counseling Services to meet by Zoom with a Counseling Services leadership team member, available on Mondays and Thursdays from noon–1:00 p.m. during the 2023–2024 academic year. You may call us during open hours at 541-346-3227. And any time Counseling Services is closed, this same number connects to our support and crisis line.