Phone call to Mom and Dad, or Halloween party? The trials of late October.

The end of October has special meaning to college students. There are all of those Halloween parties, of course. For freshmen, also important are the first set of grades, clarity about roommates and such, and Parents Weekend. Parents Weekends are typically scheduled two months into the school year, and bring to mind the detachment that comes with students leaving home and starting college.

For parents with students who are now freshmen in college, or parents who expect to dispatch a freshman in Fall 2016, here are a few thoughts about separation.

1.  On my intake questionnaire, I ask:

  1. How often would you like to come home during the academic year?
  2. How often would you like your parents to visit you at college during the academic year?
  3. How often would you like your student to come home during the academic year?
  4. How often would you like to visit your student at college during the academic year?

I take these questions seriously, and I encourage students and their families to do the same. If one party, typically but not always the parents, asks for six to ten visits, the next question is:  If your child enrolls in college 3,000 miles away, can you afford those trips? Each trip can be a demi-vacation complete with airfare, hotels, meals, meals for your student and his or her roommates, and a trip to Bed Bath and Beyond.

2.  The October 21, 2015 issue of The Wall Street Journal has a helpful article, "To Call Mom or Not? New Help for Homesick Students." The Journal offers these statistics from psychologist Christopher Thurber:  "About 20% of students entering college say they're bothered by missing home, and about 5% have homesickness so severe it interferes with their daily lives or causes significant symptoms of anxiety or depression." Within my experience, this seems about right with perhaps the 20% a bit low. And this should factor into college selection.

If parents or students think the student might be in the most severely homesick 5%, what can they do? First, simply acknowledge it. Understanding campus mental health resources is valuable. Until the student manages his or her homesickness and creates a feeling of a home for themselves on campus, can they, in fact, come home? Alternatively, are there family or friends nearby who can open their homes?

3. Within first generation families, and especially within families with daughters, college life is suspicious. They hear about college's value from counselors, friends and the students themselves. They hear even more from the media who sensationalize campus crime. These families have come to understand that their children will have more opportunities with a college degree, but the road to that degree comes with peril if the student lives on campus. Campus visits of any kind for parents help. Locally, I've seen UCLA masterfully offer campus visits to first generation students' parents, and those visits have been pivotal in the families' permission for the student to accept his or her admission.

4.  Students with learning differences are vulnerable to homesickness by way of exhaustion. Specifically, their study skills are, hopefully, steadily adapting to study demands, but the new demands of self-managed study with much less structure and much more reading can be overwhelming. By Friday, the student is simply exhausted, and a weekend at home becomes two days of rest.

5. Here are some practical suggestions for students experiencing homesickness:

  • Replace what you think you have lost. I had one student, as Asian American girl, who used "the smell test" when visiting colleges. She walked the surrounding neighborhood, stepped into every Chinese restaurant, and sniffed. On the strength of restaurant aromatics, she judged Berkeley #1. She is now at UCLA, and satisfied with the local food options.
  •  Speak up and admit your feelings. One girl, who joined a sorority in college as a freshman, told me she felt surprise and relief when the pledges each had to describe their biggest problem in college so far. The near unanimous choice: homesickness. 
  • Self-manage your transition from home to college. This can include joining in activities which help to reorient yourself into a new environment. Simultaneously, homesick students can schedule phone calls and visits home to allow more time and energy to building their new home away from home.

Photo: "IK's World Trip, SAIC in Carson Pirie and Scott Building," 1/4/07, FlickrCC