The Ups and Downs of Leaving Home for College

 Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist 

I was studying in high school when my brother left home for the first time to go to a residential college. 

He was excited about going to a new town, a new college, and above all, being on  his own--nobody would be telling him about wake-up time and curfew hours.  I was fascinated with the rewards and privileges that high school graduation brought to people. 

About two weeks after my brother left home, his tearstained letter arrived telling how much he missed all of us.  It was evident that he cried writing this letter and thinking about the things he missed which hadn't been a big deal to him just two weeks earlier. 

I learned that the first year of college did not just involve going away to college, it was also about leaving home. 

Now, as a psychologist, I know that leaving home for college is one of the last major steps in separating from the family and becoming independent.  After the first day at school (or daycare/nursery), this is the next step in separating from your parents. 

Leaving home is a further loosening of child-parent ties.  Many young people feel the pressure to distance themselves from their parents.  I feel that parents and adolescents need not be afraid of close child-parent bonding.  Their close emotional ties will not tie them to their mother's apron strings. 

In fact, healthy parental bonding helps adolescents to become independent and autonomous smoothly.  The first year of college should be taken as a transitional period for separation rather than an abrupt ending of all contact with home. 

In the first years of college, interdependence with parents and siblings is psychologically healthy and helps the young adults to become more mature, loving and self-confident. 

A study of undergraduate freshmen shows that, overall, students feel closer to their families after they leave home an these closer ties promote greater independence and self responsibility.  Students who have a secure base at home are more likely to form friendships, make good grades, and feel more satisfied with life in college.  When they make phone calls or come home on vacations, they are more likely to express their affection to the family members and communicate in an open and hones manner about how well they are doing at college. 

When they are stressed out, or they have a problem or an important decision to make, they look to their parents for support and consultation.  These behaviors do not endanger their autonomy and independence. 

Harmonious relationship with parents leads to a feeling of psychological well-being in students.  They believe that their parents want them to be independent and at the same time, they feel assured that their parents will be available if they need help. 

On the other hand, students who feel lonely and unsupported by their family lack confidence, and are also likely to be unassertive in the presence of others.  They might have problems in separating from their parents and they may find it difficult to form close relationships. 

For most of the adolescents, leaving home will be a smooth process.  Only about 20 percent of adolescents have any major problems with the process of growing up and becoming independent.  What is  important is that adolescents feel that parents understand and accept them.  If you are a parent, be available to them when they seek you out for support or consolation. 

Allow them space and time to prepare for and adjust to the requirements of the new life and new environments.  It is a time of joy and sadness for parents.  Your "child" is stepping out of your home into the outside world.  Do not be impatient and attempt to solve their problems or give unsolicited advice. 

One of the most helpful things I know that parents can tell their adolescents at the time of saying good-bye, is something to the effect, "Take good care of yourself, even better care than we took of you." 

Offer to accompany your adolescent for the first trip to college for orientation, provided he or she wants you to.  If you are a student who is going to college, I want to tell you that it is OK to still feel attached to your family.  It is OK to be thinking about home when you are away from home and to seek out your parents when you feel stressed out or overwhelmed. 

The fact is that, at least in the beginning, emotionally healthy and well adjusted students keep regular contact with their families and draw emotional support and security from them. 

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


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