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Facing College: How Parents Can Help : A freshman's feelings of freedom and maturity can be overwhelmed by doubts, insecurity and anxiety. Parents' emotional support--and lack of pressure--can make the experience less frustrating.

August 22, 1993|RODOLFO LEYVA | For 16 years, Rodolfo (Rudy) Leyva was director of USC's Freshman Access Program, a support program for students. Leyva, who has a doctorate in urban studies from USC, has worked for the Los Angeles Department of Housing since 1988

Once they have sent their youngster off to college, parents are often lulled into thinking that they can relax. But, for most parents, nothing could be further from the truth.

The transition from high school to college is particularly critical for students. Going off to college, becoming independent for perhaps the first time, can be emotionally difficult. Whether young students "survive" the freshman year depends not only on academic diligence but on their ability to cope with a series of unsettling experiences.

The role that parents play cannot be overstated.

Even under the best of conditions, it is highly probable that during this transition, sons or daughters will exhibit signs of anxiety, depression and severe discomfort. Parents need to understand the types of situations that confront young students their freshman year.

Competition for college grades is keen, and often young students do not perform at the same level as they did in high school. This does not necessarily mean that your youngster has not been studying. More than likely, it is a reflection of the increased competition.

Generally, it takes a while for young college students to learn how to regulate their time between social and academic activities. Grades will often suffer as students learn to budget their time commitments. Similarly, students who attended high schools where academic assignments were meted out in small units may need to adjust as they learn self-discipline and time management. It is vital that parents recognize the differences in learning environments and are sensitive to their child's anxieties during this period.

At most colleges, there are many pressures to select a major even before students have explored the many academic offerings. Most students need some exploration time, as well as the freedom to change majors. It's better for students to change majors than to stay in areas of study they find distasteful.

Numerous studies show that many college graduates will have as many as three different careers in their lifetime. Furthermore, these same studies show that 10% of current jobs will become obsolete, and another 10% have yet to be created. Such information may ease your concern that your son or daughter seems "slow" in settling on a satisfying career goal. You can take off the pressure to choose a major before he or she is ready. Both of you will probably be happier in the long run.

It is well and good for students to get good grades, get into a professional or graduate school and develop skills to support themselves, but there are other benefits of attending college. Gaining independence is one.

While parents need to encourage independence, they should also realize that the student may be making major decisions for the first time and feel somewhat unsure. Young students frequently want to check with their parents, even though they may not follow through with their parents' advice. The key is to always have an open avenue of communication, be non-judgmental and willing to discuss your youngster's goals and aspirations.

Finally, parents need to know that 18-year-olds are entitled to a certain level of confidentiality. Keep in mind that information about your child cannot be released without the student's written approval. This may be annoying for a parent who is paying for college, but adult students are entitled to privacy and protection under the law.

College represents an enormous challenge for all. A parent's social and emotional support will result in a less frustrating experience and a successful freshman year--for parents and student alike.

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