Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: I have a young relative who’s headed off to college soon, who is feeling more than the usual allotment of jitters. She’s otherwise a confident, outgoing, smart, emotionally balanced young woman from a loving and secure home. Any suggestions for how to support her from a distance without being intruding or overbearing?
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DEAR COLLEGE JITTERS: Define “more than the usual allotment.” What you describe is someone who’s really well positioned to figure it out for herself.
Part of the maturing process is to experience the sensation of having none of your familiar footing anymore, and to establish yourself anew. If anything, college offers the advantage of having a whole class of people off-kilter at the same time you are, so the institution itself is there for her as it wouldn’t be if, say, she were about to travel abroad by herself.
Plus, people with strong families have strong safety nets to support them through this period of risk. Doesn’t mean they aren’t sleepless for weeks before they get there — it just means they have more resources available to them if something goes wrong, and that knowledge can be an extra layer of comfort.
So. What signs are you seeing that she needs more than, say, a weekly howyadoin’ text and an occasional care package?
DEAR CAROLYN: She’s gotten herself homesick before she even gets there — social media posts about stuff she’ll miss from home (even though it’s a 90-minute drive away). And I spoke to her mom recently who relayed similar concerns.
College Jitters again
DEAR JITTERS AGAIN: Hm. Just sounds to me like social-media group-emoting.
RE: COLLEGE JITTERS: Please let her be!
I am many decades past my leaving-for-college days, but I completely sympathize with the college kid. She can have her own jitters and her own complicated feelings about starting college — excited but also sad, wanting to experience adulthood but being scared — in whatever “amounts” are right for her.
Just because us old people only remember college as wonderful doesn’t mean it isn’t perfectly within a normal range for 18-year-olds to be really upset about starting this next big chapter of their lives. I also remember not wanting to get out of bed for days after I graduated from college, so maybe that is coloring this — change is hard even when it’s supposed to be good change.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Old person here. I remember college as wonderful — but also white-knuckle-terrifying at times. I thought that mixed experience was more the norm.
But, like I said, getting through the white-knuckle parts is (to use the wording du jour) a feature, not a bug. Thanks.
RE: COLLEGE JITTERS: Is there an orientation event at the college? I met several new friends at my orientation. Together, we made all kinds of new, fun memories of the unfamiliar places we explored together.
DEAR ORIENTED: It’s probably too late in this case, but I can’t recommend these enough, thanks. Especially since a new student using the resources the school provides gets worried family members out of it.
Watch for symptoms of crisis, yes, but otherwise let her manage the bumps.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.