Freshman year of college, especially first semester, is tough. First year students must begin to act like adults making myriad decisions about eating, sleeping, studying and involvement in romantic and platonic relationships. In addition, there is pressure to achieve good grades and find the subject that ignites their passion and hopefully their future job search. All of this can be overwhelming at an age when symptoms related to mental health issues often begin to surface. *
I do not take this lightly as I send my son off to college.
Why are kids struggling? Is it the stress? Is it the enormous life change? Peer pressure? Anxiety? Too many expectations? The fear of disappointing?
With all this in mind, I’m sending my son to college with a free pass. With a clear understanding that I will be a safe spot for landing regardless of what happens. And I think you should too.
Why I Want My Son to Know It’s Ok If He Wants to Drop Out of College
As I prepare to drop you off in some forty plus days, there are so many things I want to tell you. How to get to know your professors, and why that’s so important. How to find a social network. Why some day you’ll be glad you have that group of friends. Why you should treat the girls as sweetly as you treat me…well most days. So many things.
I frantically print lists from other moms of all the things I want to say, so I don’t miss anything important. After all, these will be our last moments snuggled on the couch before bed talking, or hiking in the woods where conversation seems to flow more freely. I have so much to say, and so little time to get it all out.
Before you go, though, there’s one thing that’s important for me to share. And it’s probably something you’re not expecting.
Yes, every parent says, “You’re gonna do great.” Or, “This will be the best thing ever.” There are any number of positive send-offs that will assure you that college is the perfect choice for you.
But here’s the thing. Maybe it will be. And maybe it won’t.
But let me backtrack a second.
I’m glad you chose college as your next step. I’m confident you’re smart enough. I’m confident you’re capable enough. I’m sure you can do it. Just like all those other parents.
What I’m not sure of, is that college will be the right fit for you.
Here’s the reality. College isn’t for everyone.
Whether it’s the higher education part, because college isn’t like high school. Whether it’s the location. Maybe it’s the program. But signing on to a college program at a specific institution won’t guarantee you a perfect fit.
And what I want you to understand is that whatever you decide is okay with me. You have an open door to share with me that you need a new plan. Without anger. Without judgement. Without disapproval.
What I ask from you, is that you head to college in August with an open heart and an open mind, prepared to do your best, to be your best, and to fully embrace the choice you’ve made. And if you’ve done that and it works, wonderful.
But if you do that, and come Christmas, or the end of first year you conclude that this isn’t for you, I want you to feel safe asking for a new plan. Life and college transition are stressful. Instead of making this choice an all or nothing, make it an all and something.
Too many times, I think children live to please their parents. I want you to grow up pleasing yourself. If you try, and you fail, you will survive, and I will be here to help you pick up the pieces and make a new and better plan.
I love you son. And college or no college, you will be a fine man. That’s the one and only thing I’m sure of.
* “Depression is the world’s leading cause of disability, and 800,000 lives are lost each year through suicide.” In 2016, the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA reported that 12 percent of U.S. freshmen — a record high — “frequently” felt depressed over the prior year. Fourteen percent said there was a “very good chance” they would seek personal counseling in college.”
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