The beginning of college is filled with emotion from both sides of the parent/student relationship. Parents are dealing with this event as a culmination of 4 years of hard work keeping their teen focused, developing good habits and trying to guide them in decisions (that their teen probably won't appreciate for another decade). For the teenager, much of the energy is focused on getting out the door. While some may experience anxiety about leaving home, it is often overshadowed by the excitement of new freedom.
As the dust settles in the school year and the activity dies down, students are faced with all new surroundings, a very different schedule, new friends and a lot of uncertainty. With that freedom, can also come some extra down time. For the student whose every waking moment is not filled with activity or purpose, homesickness can begin to creep in. These feelings can get magnified for the student when things don't go as they expected— a course is harder than they thought, they experience rejection from a new social circle or find it hard to fit in.
Don't forget that parenting hasn't stopped and talking to your new college student about homesickness might be all they need to get them through. Here are a few tips we've picked up from our students over the years:
College students experiencing anxiety may only want to be heard. While it might be hard for a parent to hear their student's sadness, it's important to remember that it is a healthy feeling as long as they have the space to express it. Try not to push too quickly and let them have their space. Checking in a day or two later without hovering can give the student time to process their own feelings. Remember that constant check-ins with home may not actually help your student move on and find their place in their new community.
"High-intensity exercise releases the body's feel-good chemicals called endorphins, resulting in the 'runner's high' that joggers report. But for most of us, the real value is in low-intensity exercise sustained over time. That kind of activity spurs the release of proteins called neurotrophic or growth factors, which cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections. The improvement in brain function makes you feel better."
Remind your teen that a little bit of exercise goes a long way. Even encouraging them to walk to class or simply take the stairs can give them a small way to start upping the good feelings.
While homesickness most often strikes a few weeks after school starts, remember that it can happen throughout the entire year. Being prepared for helping your teen deal with these difficult emotions can make all the difference and make their experience the most positive time for their personal growth.