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Separation Anxiety: Leaving for College

Depressed Teen

As summer winds down and fall draws near, parents of teens across the
country are checking off their to-do lists in anticipation of sending their children to college.

Books, clothes, bedding and toiletries are on everyone's mind, but many people underestimate the emotional preparation needed for this important transition.

The period before leaving for college and the first semester are crucial times to support your child's emotional needs. For even the most independent teen, the thought of managing his own choices every day away from the comfort of home can be daunting.

Dr. Joseph Luciani, a clinical psychologist and author of Self-Coaching: The Powerful Program to Beat Anxiety and Depression, works with many patients, both children and parents alike, who deal with anxiety on a daily basis. He notes this time of year is especially challenging for many people preparing for the transition to living away from home.

"The anticipation of going off to college can be both exhilarating and frightening. College represents a world of choice- what classes to take, what to eat, when to go to sleep, not to mention the temptations of drugs and alcohol." He likens the boundaries parents set at home to fences, curtailing impulsivity often seen among teens. "College is a 'fenceless' world" where it is easy for teens to becoming overwhelmed.

Luciani offers some advice for teens who are about to leave home for the first time.
● Recognize that there will be a period of transition, for parents as well, and perhaps a feeling of being homesick. Typically this is short lived as you begin to meet and make new friends, join clubs, sororities or fraternities, or simply hang out with your new roommate.

● Remind yourself that everyone is in the same boat. It's okay to be nervous, just don't project negatives. Talk to anyone who's been to college and you'll see that your anticipatory fears are understandable but grossly exaggerated. 

Dr. Luciani notes that anxiety is the anticipation of things going wrong and is exemplified by thinking What if? "The best way to minimize anxiety is to not allow these anticipations to run wild."

● You may feel insecure about your ability to handle the demands of independent college living-understand that you're not alone. Nor will you be alone! Through mutual trial-and-error, you, your roommate and newly-made friends will quickly figure all this out. Everyone does! 

● Remind yourself that this will also be a time for you, as well as your parents, to develop a more satisfying, mature relationship. The e-mails and phone calls will become opportunities to reconnect and to see each other in a new light with renewed respect.

Luciani cites the transition from childhood dependency to adult independence and the relationship between parent and child is one that will significantly change for the better during this time.

Jennifer is an educational consultant who works with families and educators to establish healthy and productive routines in the home and school. Adapting behavior management techniques she implemented for years as a special educator, she helps parents and teachers adopt these tools to fit their unique needs and priorities. Jennifer also speaks to parent and education groups on current topics in education and children's health. Visit www.jennifercerbasi.com