Lonely College Student? Enter Dr. Mom (or Dr. Dad)

It takes about 11 years of schooling and training to become a physician—it takes even longer than that to become a certified Dr. Mom (about 18 years, actually). When your kids were younger, you played the role of Dr. Mom (or Dr. Dad) by taking temperatures and settling upset stomachs. Now that your child’s probably miles away, your responsibilities as Dr. Mom have changed. Caring for your college kid involves more than soothing sore tummies; you have to worry about their overall well-being.

On campus, minor mishaps can become major meltdowns — it’s something all students go through. And from my time in college, I’ve found that unhappiness tends to trend when kids just don’t feel like they’re clicking with their classmates.

Dealing with Loneliness in College

So if your child’s been lonely at college and down in the dumps lately, here could be some reasons why:

They might not feel like they fit in. To help develop a stronger sense of belonging, they could join new groups and try different activities on campus.

Maybe they’re feeling isolated. Is your kid a hermit? Have they tried to get to know their professors and classmates? It’s not uncommon for students—even on large campuses—to feel alone if they’ve had trouble opening up.

Their off-campus job could be creating a disconnect. Gaining experience and earning money for school can come at a price: Students who work off campus twenty-plus hours a week may not have as much opportunity (or time) to develop friendships and enjoy the full college experience.

Now that you‘re aware of the possible reasons that are making your college student unhappy in college, here are some ways you can help:

1.) Assess their problems with them. Help your kid take a full, honest look at their situation and their place in it. “And always remember that when they’re away from home, everything is so exaggerated,” said Dr. Barb.

2.) Get to the root of their troubles. Ask questions to find out if a chronic condition or a one-time issue is making them unhappy.

3.) Encourage self-reflection. Find out what (if anything) they’re currently doing to improve their situation, and give them ideas on how to create an action plan that’ll help empower them.

4.) Remind them you care. Dr. Barb (she’s my Dr. Mom!) has a great suggestion: “The cards and little gift boxes I’d send as a constant reminder of home—and someone caring about them—helped a lot.”

5.) Ask them, ‘What do the happy students do?’ Tell them to observe what satisfied students are doing differently: Do they exhibit positive behaviors that your kid could learn from?

6.) Refer a specialist (if necessary). Seek the help of a specialist if your child is exhibiting these symptoms of depression in college students—because some issues are beyond the power of Dr. Mom.

So there you have it, doc. We hope this helps you help your lonely college kid. Sure, you may not be getting the salary of a family physician—but can you really put a price on your child’s happiness? (And yours too, for that matter!)

Help! My College Kid is Bringing Their Special Someone Home for the Holidays

“Hey Dad! Umm…I was wondering, would it be cool if Bert* celebrated Christmas with us this year?” [Silence.] Of course my dad wasn’t ‘cool’ with an older guy he’d never met staying in his house. He only agreed to it after I promised he’d sleep in the basement—with the door locked. Things were what I considered ‘serious’ with Bert, and I couldn’t stand the thought of being without him during Marquette’s month-long winter break. Thanks to Dad, now I wouldn’t have to.

Being a good host is very important, here’s what you could do if your son or daughter wants to bring someone special home (so you won’t embarrass your kid like my Dad embarrassed me):

  1. Try to meet (or at least talk to) your son or daughter’s guest before they’re sleeping in your home. It’ll help everyone feel a bit more comfortable. Oh, and be sure to discuss sleeping arrangements before they arrive.
  2. Talk to them; don’t interrogate them. Ask your child details about their boyfriend or girlfriend beforehand; this way you can spend time chatting with—not questioning—them when they get there. And stick to safe topics like their hometown, major and interests (at least for the first visit).
  3. Suggest your kid prep their significant other about what to expect during their visit. If your husband sleepwalks, maybe they should be aware of that. If Grandma Virginia is deaf in one ear, yep, they should probably know that too.
  4. Ask if they have any allergies you should know about. If they’re deathly allergic to cats, you may want to keep Fifi in your bedroom during their visit and vacuum the house (extra) thoroughly.

If the opposite is the case, and your college kid is going over to their house here are some tips you can share with your kid before they leave to their boyfriend or girlfriend’s home:

  1. Teach your child how to start a conversation. Whether they’re freaking out or cool as a cucumber, it’s important that they show interest in their significant other’s family. And showing interest usually involves making conversation and asking questions. Pictures on the fridge are great conversation starters, but also suggest they come prepared with some non-controversial topics to discuss—it’ll save them from some potentially awkward moments of silence.
  2. Remind them to be on their best behavior and mind their Ps and Qs…and their potty mouth. Manners can disappear in college, so make sure they pay special attention to what they’re saying and how they’re saying it. Even if their special someone’s family swears like a bunch of sailors, it may be in their best interest to avoid vulgar language (at least until they’ve gotten to know the family better).
  3. Suggest they bring a small gift. They needn’t try to compete with Santa or anything; something small that says ‘thank you’ is perfect. One of my boyfriends gave my parents and very Polish grandparents each a burned CD of beautiful Polish Christmas songs—they loved it.

The more the merrier, right? So as long as you and your college kid have discussed and agreed upon the details, a visit from their special someone can brighten everyone’s holiday.

*Names have been changed to spare my ex some embarrassment.

Beware of the Relationship Turkey Dump This Thanksgiving: Tips on Getting Over a Break Up

Is your son or daughter heading towards a turkey dump? Yes, you read that right.

  • Turkey dump: When a college freshman breaks up with their high school boyfriend (or girlfriend) over Thanksgiving break.

There’s even a website you can pass on to your kid to help them survive the dump.

If your college kid is thinking about saying goodbye to their high school sweetheart due to relationship problems, do you know what advice to give them? Are you ready for the tears? It’s important that you’re there for them during this difficult time, ‘cause breaking up is hard to do. (That oldies song is stuck in your head now, right? Sorry.)

Here are some questions to ask your son or daughter if they’re unsure whether or not they should stick with their current sweetie:

  • Will you be happier if you’re single the rest of your freshman/sophomore/junior year?
  • Has maintaining your relationship (with endless texting, skyping, wall posts and visits) made it difficult to meet people and make new friends in college?
  • Have you thought about what you’ll miss most if you two do break up?
  • Are you willing to put in a considerable amount of effort to make a long distance relationship work?
  • Do you want to see what else is out there, but are afraid of being on your own after so long?
  • Is this relationship distracting you from your schoolwork or other commitments?

As students form new lives on a new campus, with new people (aka, new prospects), a lot of growth takes place1. And sometimes a college, long distance, or super-involved relationship just doesn’t fit into their life (or busy schedule) anymore. So put things into perspective for your child and let them know they’re not alone.

Losing the person they’re closest to isn’t going to be easy, but you can definitely help ease your kid’s pain. And if they find themselves on the receiving end of a turkey dump this Thanksgiving, share these tips for how to get over a break up:

  • Mourn and move on. Accept that this wasn’t a perfect match for whatever reason and get back out there (as soon as you’re able).
  • Don’t blame your ex. Try to maintain a civil relationship because chances are, you have mutual friends back home.
  • Surround yourself with positive people. Friends and family can help you feel less lonely.
  • Regret nothing. The time you two dated wasn’t a waste—you learned things about yourself that you can apply in future relationships.

And if your child is having an especially difficult time getting over a break up, lead them to this MacInsiders article, which has a section for the (rather unfortunate) dumpee.

1Lynn, Kelci. (2010). The Thanksgiving Dump. http://collegelife.about.com/od/dating/qt/tgivingdump.htm

Is Your College Kid Depressed?

Mental health problems on college campuses are a growing concern for many parents. When you look at the numbers, it’s easy to see why. In his blog, The College Shrink, David Leibow, M.D. shared these stats:

Based on a 2009 survey conducted by the American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment (ACHA-NCHA II), 39 percent of college students will feel hopeless during the school year, 25 percent will feel so depressed they’ll find it hard to function, 47 percent will experience overwhelming anxiety, and 84 percent will feel overwhelmed by all they have to do.

Sure, everyone has bad days—and there’s no doubt that your college kid has experienced a few of those. But what happens when those bad days turn into bad weeks or even months? How do you know if your child is stuck in a rut or battling depression?

Before we get into the signs of depression, please keep in mind that the YCK staff is by no means experts on this subject. So if you are worried about your college kid, it’s important that you reach out to a professional for advice.

Back to the warning signs. It may not be easy to spot some of these signs, especially since most kids are too proud to admit that they’re depressed. Hopefully, when you tell your son or daughter that you’re concerned and you want to talk, they’ll feel comfortable enough to confide in you.

According to HelpGuide.org, here are the common signs and symptoms of depression you should focus on:

Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Do they have a bleak outlook—like nothing will ever get better and there’s nothing they can do to improve their situation?

Loss of interest in daily activities. Have they lost interest in former hobbies, pastimes and social activities? Have they lost their ability to feel joy and pleasure?

Appetite or weight changes. This may be a little tougher to detect because of the famous “freshmen 15,” but have they experienced significant weight loss or weight gain—a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month?

Sleep changes. Late night cram sessions have probably already done a number on your college kid’s sleeping habits. Find out if it’s more than that—either insomnia, especially waking in the early hours of the morning, or oversleeping (also known as hypersomnia).

Irritability or restlessness. Are they feeling agitated, restless, or on edge? Is their tolerance level low; everything and everyone gets on their nerves?

Loss of energy. Are they feeling fatigued, sluggish, and physically drained? Ask if their whole body feels heavy, and if even small tasks are exhausting or take longer to complete.

Self-loathing. Do they have strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt? Are they harshly criticizing themselves for perceived faults and mistakes?

Concentration problems. Are they having trouble focusing, making decisions, or remembering things?

Unexplained aches and pains. Is there an increase in physical complaints such as headaches, back pain, aching muscles and stomach pain?

Depression is a touchy subject for anyone—and that may be especially true for college kids who are striving to be perfect. Everyone tells them their college years are supposed to be “awesome” and “the best time of their life” yet for many, college can be an enormous struggle. Unfortunately, most just don’t want to admit it.

So if you think your college kid is dealing with depression and you want to talk to them about it, make it clear that it’s nothing to be ashamed of—college students everywhere are experiencing the same thing.


The College Shrink: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-college-shrink

Professor Potty Mouth Won’t Censor Himself? Good-He Shouldn’t Have to

After 21 years of teaching philosophy at Hawaii Community College and the University of Hawaii at Hilo, Daniel Petersen’s career ended with one infuriated parent’s letter—even though he’s considered one of the school’s most engaging lecturers.

So what sparked this controversy? Petersen said “shit happens” and a student freaked out and told her dad. That’s basically it. I think it’s sad, but I’d love for you to hear me out and share your thoughts as a college parent.

I’ll start off by admitting that my mom made my family put money into a “potty mouth jar” every time we swore—but that was oh, over a decade ago. So even though I see the value in teaching children not to swear…

I think that if you’re adult enough to attend college, you’re adult enough to choose whether or not to use profanity.

And so is everyone else around you (including your professors).

So if I was in Daniel Peterson’s philosophy course when he said: “Shit happens,” I would have nodded my head in agreement. Personally, I don’t find that comment offensive or inappropriate. I think the statement achieves what Petersen said his objective was—to get students to understand that you can’t determine your fate.

I had professors that dabbled in profanity in the classroom—and I’ll be honest, it caught my attention. Their colorful lectures made them more relatable; like they weren’t monitoring everything they said. And that made listening to them easier and learning from them more enjoyable.

But I do realize there are people who don’t agree with me. People like Timothy Jahraus and his daughter. His letter to her college went a little something like this:

“Instructors…with influence and power over their students…have no right to use profanity in the classroom. It demonstrates a…total lack of respect for the students he instructs.”

After receiving this letter, school administrators urged Petersen to stop swearing in class, but he didn’t.

And judging from the throng of students who’ve been speaking out on Petersen’s behalf, I’m not the only person who supports his decision to stick to his lecture style. In an editorial called “Save Dan,” the school’s student newspaper, Ke Kalahea, even referred to Petersen as,

“One of the most engaging lecturers the community college has.”

Unfortunately, future Hawaii Community College students won’t get the chance to learn from one of its most engaging professors—Petersen quit. And I don’t blame him.

Intentionally provocative Petersen said he swore to make a point and added, “I have never sworn at a student.” He considers what happened to him a violation of his academic freedom, and wonders how his teaching style could have been right for 21 years and then suddenly be wrong. So do I.

Let’s be honest—the shit…I mean stuff, (sorry)…your kid hears on campus is 10 times worse than anything Petersen’s said in the classroom. But are students being publicly reprimanded for their potty mouths? Nope.

If you’d like to read the full story, you can find it here.

Adjusting to Your New Role as a College Parent

After my son left for college, things around the house were different. There was an empty chair at the dinner table. I wasn’t staying up waiting for his car to pull in the driveway. And there was no longer a group of rowdy boys playing video games in the basement (come to think if it, I was okay with that one).

The biggest difference, though, was how my relationship with Matt began to change. He was a young adult now, living away from home, beginning his life—and I wasn’t going to be there to watch over him anymore. I had to adjust to my new role as college parent, and it wasn’t going to be easy.

Here’s what I kept telling myself: We spent the last 18 years preparing Matt for this, and he was ready. I had to take that leap of faith and hope that all those years would pay off. I promised I’d let him be independent, help him learn from his mistakes and treat him like an adult.

It’s a tough transition, but there are things you can do to make the shift from “parent” to “college parent” a success.

Here’s a Few Tips for Parenting Your College Kid:

Fill the void: Whether it’s going back to work, starting a new hobby or just spending time with friends, now’s your chance to focus more on you. I always wanted to do a triathalon, so I hit the gym and put my energy toward that (it also helped me manage my stress).

Change the conversation: Instead of treating Matt like a kid, I had to talk to him like an adult. When we’d discuss things like schoolwork, his friends, grades and parties, I didn’t tell him what to do—I usually just shared my opinion. Try your best not to lecture, but to guide, and hope your kid makes the right decisions.

Resist the urge to help: When he was at home, I’d help Matt type up his papers, build his science fair projects, iron his dress shirts—all the typical stuff us parents do. When he was at school, I didn’t jump in the car and rush out every time he called (although I wanted to at first). I would give him advice, help as much as I could over the phone, and let Matt figure out things for himself.

Set expectations: We can’t assume that our college kids want to talk to us every day; it’s just not realistic. So ask your child about what is reasonable: How often should you call? Are certain days better than others? Be respectful of their time and try to coordinate your communication.

Adjust the house rules: When Matt came home from school, I let him sleep in a little later, didn’t hold him to a strict curfew and pretended not to notice when he overstuffed my washing machine. I’m not saying let your kid go crazy. Just realize that they’ve been on their own for a while, so you might want to go a little easier on them when they’re back home.

I came across a really good article from the NYU Child Study Center that discusses this transition to college in way more depth.

 Do you have any great advice or articles to share with soon-to-be college parent?

Countdown to College: Pump Up Your Kid’s self-esteem With a Positively Powerful Pep Talk

With the days dwindling away, now may be the time to give your college kid a pep talk. A heartfelt rah-rah session is something most parents may not think about, or may even skip altogether, because they don’t feel their child needs one (or think it’s too cheesy). However, you shouldn’t overlook the power of a college pep talk. It may be just what your son or daughter needs right now.

Whether your kid is all smiles or a bundle of nerves, we’ve got a few lines you can use to give them a burst of confidence.

Tips to boost your college kid’s self-esteem

- If you don’t know what you want to do with the rest of your life right now, that’s OK. Not all freshmen do. It’s not taboo for college students to be undecided for a while.

- You can do this. You know those self-defeating thoughts that are making you doubt yourself? Stop letting them chip away at your confidence. You were accepted to this college for a reason.

- As a parent, I’m here to help, but you’re the one that’s going to have to live with your decisions. So make sure your choices are just that—yours. I promise I won’t be disappointed as long as you’re doing what makes you happy and putting forth a good effort.

If you feel like your son or daughter needs a few more tips though, send this link their way: 15 ways to boost your confidence at college.

And did you know your pep talk provides the perfect prelude to a candid conversation about how you’ll stay connected after your student leaves? This week, try probing for answers to questions like:

- How would you like me to contact you (email, phone, text, Facebook)?
- Do you prefer I call you at a set time, or you call me when you have time?
- Would it be easier for us to communicate if I learned to text?
- Is it reasonable for me to expect to hear from you at least twice a week?

What encouraging words did your parents give you?

Countdown to College: Tips for a Successful Sendoff

Right about now you’re probably wondering: What’s the best way to deal with drop-off day? Other than invest in a box (or 2) of tissues, what else can I do to ward off the tears and fears I know I’ll face on the ride home? Are there things I can do that’ll help if I’m still feeling this way a week…or a month…from now?

We’ve got a few tips that should help take the sting out of your kid’s sendoff:

• Save the heavy sobbing for the car. Have a hug and a graceful exit. Students don’t want to engage in a long, emotional goodbye in front of their new roommate, so try not to do anything embarrassing during your exit.

• Don’t add to your child’s anxiety by blatantly displaying yours. Overwhelming feelings of loss and uncertainty are to be expected, but you don’t have to vocalize them to your son or daughter right now.

• Try not to improvise your goodbyes—have your parting words at least partly prepared before move-in day. That way you’ll have a few catch phrases like “I love you” and “we’re just a phone call away” if you find you’re a bit tongue-tied and teary-eyed.

• Say “talk to you soon” instead of “goodbye” when you leave campus. Trust us—a few words can make a big difference.

You’re not alone in feeling this way, so don’t be alone in dealing with it, either. Reach out to others with children the same age as yours. Now’s the time to lean on your spouse, best friends and relatives for support. And don’t forget that being there for your college kid now can be just as fun and rewarding as it was when they were young.

How will you say “goodbye”? (Without saying “goodbye”)

Sending Your Child Off To College : Toy Story 3 and Saying Good-Bye

I’m a sucker for sentimentality. So when Toy Story 3 was taking its turn on our Blu-ray player, I sat down and watched the end again. And it was tough. In a moment of quiet amidst the packing and final off-to-college preparations, Andy’s mom stands still and looks at his room. While the movie closes with the tender depiction of Andy parting with his toys and Woody saying good-bye to his friend, this brief scene, and what it says about a parent’s view of childhood giving way to maturity, definitely gets to me.

Sending your child off to college

For many parents in the Your College Kid community, the good-byes have just been said. You’ve posted pictures of your child posing around their college campus or smiling next to their new roommate, and traveled home, white-knuckled, in a sadly quieter car. My heart breaks for you.

I’m still two years ahead of that experience, with my daughter just entering her junior year of high school. But this year I find myself, for the first time, thinking so often about what that transition will be like for me, for my wife, and for my daughter’s little brothers, too. I imagine myself standing there in her empty room, my wife clutching my hand, looking for reminders, re-playing the memories.

Many of the signs that a little girl lived in that room have, frankly, long since disappeared. The Disney Princess bedding made way for more mature prints; the Barbies — dozens of Barbies — were hurriedly packed up years ago in anticipation of a friend’s sleepover … and never brought out again. They’ll be there, though; the Kindergarten soccer trophy, the dance recital photos, and maybe, somewhere (did she take it, or did she leave it?), the tattered, loved, little yellow blankie we wrapped around her when we took her home from the hospital.

But this is what happens. From the first time she rolled herself over from front to back, she’s been becoming more and more independent. Sometimes by slight degrees, sometimes in leaps, but every first step, every accomplishment, every good-bye –  they’ve been signs of a job well done. This is what we parents do, hard as it is, and if we do it right, this is the hoped for, prayed for, result.

Letting go of your adult children – Dry your eyes, and congratulate yourself.

Treat yourself to something indulgent. A day at the spa. A new gadget. They won’t ease the pain, or make you stop worrying, but you deserve a reward. You’ve got a kid in college now — that’s awfully cool.


Please let me know how you’re coping. Share your story with us.

Summertime Blues: Spending Time With Your College Kid Before They Say Goodbye

The summer before my son went away to college, I wanted to do it all. Big family vacation, backyard BBQs, baseball games—I planned to spend as much time as possible with Matt. There was just one thing I overlooked: His friends.

For Matt, that last summer before college was all about hanging out with friends before they went their separate ways. For me, that summer was a major freak out time. Instead of having fun in the sun, I was worrying about everything under the sun. Before I knew it, we were packing the car and heading off to KU.

By the time my younger daughter was heading off to school, I did things a whole lot differently. And that summer was a whole lot better. So parents, if you’re looking to squeeze in some quality time with your soon-to-be-college kid, here are a few things you might want to do.

Things to do with your kid the last summer before college:

Realize friends come first. It doesn’t mean your child loves you any less. In their mind, this last summer before college is their last big fling with their friends. So don’t be hurt if they want to go party with their pals instead of their parents.

Schedule “how to” demos. Does your kid know your secret techniques for getting out a grass stain? Can they iron a shirt in a second? Sew a button on a jacket? You can teach them all kinds of tricks and tips they’ll need to know when they’re away at school—while enjoying some together time the summer before college.

Consider taking mini vacations. If you’re planning to go on a family vacation, your son or daughter may be more open to spending a couple weekends at a lake house instead of a week in Florida. I’m not saying your kid wouldn’t love a long vacation; it’s just that they see their time this summer before college as precious. It may be easier to convince them to go on shorter trips because they won’t feel like they’ll be away from friends that long.

Go on shopping dates. You know that checklist of all the things they need for their dorm? Hit the malls together. You can pick up the essentials on the summer before college checklist by planning a few shopping dates throughout the summer. Just try not to wait until the last minute or your “dates” will be stressful and no fun.

Be a little nostalgic. If you have a special park, pizza place or campground you’d always go to as a family, try to plan an afternoon or evening out when you all go back.  It may sound cheesy at first, but when all the funny stories start flying your kid (and you) will love it.

As you can see, it’s really about appreciating the little things this summer before college. Spend as much time as you can with your son or daughter—and try not to let them see you cry when you’re packing up their bedroom.


Do you have any ideas on ways parents can spend more time with their college bound kids this summer? We’d love to hear them!