Published on Brock University (http://www.brocku.ca)
The Transition To University
There is no doubt that the move from a highschool to a university environment is a major change in a person's academic career. You and your child have not likely experienced as much change in your relationship since they first went off to daycare or started their formal education over a dozen years ago. In some ways the two experiences are very similar. Your child had to deal with a very new and stimulating environment that offered many challenges along with opportunities for growth and development. There were lots of new people and situations that accelerated the process of them discovering and defining themselves as a unique person. It wasn't just about learning their ABCs back then and it is not just about learning the course content at University. In each stage of our lives we have developmental challenges and models of student development say that university students need to manage a number of developmental tasks that are connected with developing antonymy. The university environment is ideal for this because of the degree of independence and reduced structure your child will find here. If they haven't already they will need to learn to regulate themselves and develop some self discipline and that might take a little time. The good news is that while it is a big one, this is just one of a number of transitions that you and your child have already successfully accomplished, so the probability is that this one will be managed successfully as well. As one of our counsellors who has children in university has said "If you can survive your child learning to drive you can survive this."
How To Help
As a parent you did a number of things to help your child become more independent and ready to first go off to school. You may have wanted to make sure that they knew how to get their winter coats and boots on, or to tie their own shoe laces. Many parents find it easier through their child's teen years to simply do many of the routine maintenance chores for their child rather than try to motivate them to do them on their own. Knowing how to do laundry, sew on a button, prepare eight to twelve quick nutritious meals, balance a bank book and create a monthly budget to cover your basic financial expenses are life long skills that need to be developed by doing. If you have not already, you would be wise to provide your child with guidance as they perform these tasks for themselves. This does not mean you should never make them another meal or do a load of their laundry. The idea is to ensure that they could do it if you did not.
The trend with today's university students is to be more connected to their families and friends than in the past. Certainly technology is a major factor in this trend but in addition the parents of this generation has, in general, taken a greater interest and had more involvement in their children's lives. This can be a very good thing and the trick for parents is to balance their involvement with their child's need to develop the confidence required to be a competent adult and potential parent themselves in the future. It is natural to want to help them avoid the mistakes that we made and few of us would disagree with the idea that some of our greatest learning has come from our mistakes. There is much truth in the old adage that the more you do for people the less they learn to do for themselves. This shouldn't be interpreted as we should leave our children to sink or swim but rather that you should assess how much is necessary for you to do and provide what support is appropriate - more isn't necessarily better. Every person has areas of adequacies as well as areas needing development. For example your son or daughter might look to you in an area like making appointments to meet with professionals and at the same time they may be excellent at managing money because they have earned and been in charge of their own money for a few years. Your role is to move from doer to coach in areas that your child shows dependency on you (like the first example) and from coach to sounding board and supporter when they have developed the competence to be their own doer (as in the second example).
To assist in finding the balance, take an interest in what your child is doing while allowing them some space to stand on their own. General questions like "How are things going with your roommates?" or "with the academic load?" are good door openers for them to let you know how they are doing and better for their development than pressing them, through a series of questions which push for specific details like how many hours they spent on homework yesterday. If they seek your advise, ask what their thoughts and ideas are before volunteering your own and be prepared to back off and let them make what you think is a mistake. It may work out for them in the end and if it doesn't they will learn a valuable lesson and at the same time get the message that you trust in their ability to deal with the consequences of their actions.
Universities are rich environments filled with diverse and competing ideas. Your child is going to be exposed to a lot more variety in people and philosophies of life. They may want to talk to you about what they are discovering and may even challenge your traditional way of thinking about things. To keep the lines of communications open, listen to what they are excited about and try to avoid turning it into a debate. If all they get for sharing is an argument they may decide it is easier just to stop including you. Raise questions about your concerns and listen to their reasoning when they answer, not just to counter what they have to say but to understand their view. If need be close the discussion off with a "Well I will have to think some more about that" before you both walk away frustrated. Take some reassurance from the fact that research shows that while individuals may move away from family values during this phase of their development, over time there is a tendency for them to shift back towards the views of their families of origine.
If your child is not living at home anticipate that they will want to spend time with their friends as well as family when they visit. Try not to take it personally, because it is usually about them experimenting with finding their own balance between these two important areas of their lives. You may be wise to renegotiate the rules they live with while at home. Many students find it frustrating that their parents expect them to manage themselves independently for weeks at a time while at school only to expect they will adhere to the same controls that they had in highschool when they are back home.
You can expect that your child may develop some homesickness or get down from time to time. This will become less a problem as they begin to feel more at home at Brock. Encourage them to get involved with activities and people at the campus. To spend some weekends as well as weekdays here. Brock is known for its sense of community and offers lots of opportunities to connect with others. Your child's involvement will help them to have a well rounded experience and enhance their development. Some students fall into a negative pattern of returning home each weekend to be with friends. As time goes on they feel depressed on Sundays when it is time to return to the school. In essence they have turned Brock into nothing but a work place, while all the fun takes place somewhere else. Encourage your child to joining a club, go to an event, meet regularly with others to work out or study together because these activities are bridges into the community.
If your son or daughter does becomes depressed or has other emotional difficulties develop while at Brock, we can provide help. The Personal Counsellors in the Student Development Centre all have a minimum of a Masters degree and ten years clinical experience. You may have attended their transitions session if you came to Smart Start. They are well versed in the demands of the University environment and skilled at dealing with a wide range of issues including depression, anxiety, eating disorders and relationship problems. We work closely with Health Services when medication is seen as desirable.
Students do not have to pay for counselling and it is completely confidential (counselling records are kept separate from other University records). This also means that without a signed release of information, your child's counsellor will not be able to reveal information to you about your child's appointments. Appointments can be made during regular office hours (8:30 - 12:00, 1:00 - 4:30) by calling Ext. 4750 at the University or coming into the Student Development Centre (ST400). Some evening and off campus appointments can be made in special situations.
If you think your child could use our service, you can help by letting them know how to make an appointment (see above). Experience has shown us that it is better if he or she makes the appointment themself. You can also reassure them that lots of students have found it helpful to talk with someone who is knowledgeable and objective. If you can, help them see that using the resources that are available when they are needed is a sign of strength not weakness. Again, after they have seen a counsellor a general question like "How did it go?" is a door opener that will encourage them to share with you while respecting their right for privacy.
If you have questions or concerns contact the Manager of the service, Les McCurdy-Myers 905-688-5550 Ext. 4123 and he may be able to advise you.