By Darcy McConnell, M.Ed., LADC, LPC
The month of October has been a busy month at EFC. School started in August and some were off to college while others were another year closer to high school graduation. Everyone seemed to settle in fine; some were attending football games while others were living on their own for the first time. After a little while came the first round of arrests for smoking marijuana in the bathroom or drinking at the games. Concerned parents perused report cards. This influx of clients has always been interesting to me because it seems very crisis driven and often chaotic.
I remember growing up through high school and the first years of college. These were hard, stressful times. As humans, we all make mistakes. We are fortunate that there is room for mistakes at that young age. We all understand that not a single person is perfect and that people are going to make mistakes. I wonder why it is then that we are so hard on them when they do make mistakes. Now, I’m not in any way dismissing bad behavior and I love consequences, but the lesson is “learning from one’s mistakes and behaving differently”. If someone trips up along the way, I think we must first ask ourselves “why?”. This goes for the one behaving badly also. Growing up is so much about developing identity and understanding one’s self. If we can understand ourselves well enough to be aware and cautious of not repeating the behavior in the future, then we change and grow.
I enjoy working with clients who return to therapy after beginning their first year of college because it is often not everything that they thought it would be and, all of a sudden, they’re miserably unhappy. I remember that transition myself and I remember it being characterized by a lack of self-confidence and an extreme amount of anxiety about the future. For the first time in life, we move out from our parents’ homes and in with friends or even sometimes strangers. There is an incredible amount of change and freedom gained in this move.
Unfortunately, change for most humans is not easy and is actually uncomfortable simply because it is totally different. Individuals go through so many emotions during this time and may even question whether they really know what they want or why they feel the way a particular way.
I remember being young and so focused on moving out so that my parents would not be as involved in all the things going on in my life. I also remember getting frustrated with professors who did not even care to know my name. It was frustrating, too, to find friends who were more interested in other things that absolutely did not matter than being good friends and relationships that simply did not work out. Then I remember being sad, hurt, frustrated and confused. The worst part was that, at the end of a really bad day, my overinvolved parents were not sitting in the living room asking me about what was going on in every aspect of my life. I can still remember realizing how important they were and how I missed them and their advice so much. Parents, please do not ever think that your children do not need your support; they do. Tell them that you love them and that they are capable of anything.
The extreme amount of freedom mentioned above and the lack of structure in the collegiate environment can also factor into the stress equation for young people. Many students struggle with not having assigned studies versus the independent notes with four scheduled tests or research papers for grades format. Procrastination seems to bear its ugly head, especially when there are so many parties and new people to meet. College rarely comes with a handbook for success. Classes sometimes are a wash and have to be dropped. Please do not forget or dismiss the guilt and feelings of disappointment that are always a part of these situations and remember, life is about learning from our experiences. Unfortunately, mistakes happen and we don’t always know the right thing to do the first time. Parents, please support your children even when they do not do what you think they should have done.
Healthy support during these times is the very best thing you can do for your children and your friends. The most important factor is that people learn and do things differently, whether we’re talking something as simple as studying or something more complicated like relationships. People need the encouragement and the freedom to understand what has happened from an honest point of view and to acknowledge the problem in order to prevent its repetition.
Parents, if you do not know what to do when your child is in distress, it’s okay. There are professionals to consult when you feel the need. Support your kids but never do what they can do themselves. Be firm, be real and reinforce what you know that they are capable of, not what you fear they are not. This will foster positive thinking, which, when paired with good problem solving skills, is an amazing combination. Dealing with these situations does not come with a handbook, and sometimes people get it wrong. It’s all right; everybody makes mistakes and this is how and why people change and grow.
Darcy McConnell is a therapist at Edmond Family Counseling, Inc. and can be reached at 341-3554.
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