Parent Trap: College Freshmen
A 2018 study by the American College Health Association found that 67% of female students and 54% of male students felt very lonely within the past 12 months. Forty-five percent felt so depressed it was difficult to function, 57% felt things were hopeless, and 90% felt overwhelmed by all they had to do. And the most challenging time for most college students is the first semester of freshman year. Why is this so, and what can be done about it?
One challenge all first-year college students face is creating a new support system, which can be hard due to online distractions. Many young women have told me they feel socially awkward and have a hard time initiating conversations with new people; they blame their dependence on social media. They explain that they need to ‘pre-game’ before they go out in order to gain courage to interact with peers. They also report that most people on campus are always on their phones, contributing to their sense of isolation and loneliness.
Also, many young women have a picture in their minds before they start college of what has been described to them as ‘the best time of my life.’ The reality is, it takes time to develop a sense of community, so their picture isn’t immediately fulfilled, causing frustration and discouragement. And coming from a structured, supervised schedule, the first months of being on
campus are challenging as they work to create their own lives.
The following are suggestions for what new students can do to better acclimate and find connections.
1. Put your phone down when you are in class, walking across campus and hanging out in your dorm room. Make eye contact, smile at people and have the courage to start conversations.
2. Shrink the campus. Pledge a sorority, join a club, exercise at the rec center or play intramurals. It’s less daunting to talk to small groups of people, so start small and build.
3. Remind yourself that you are not alone. Everyone arrives at college wanting new connections and feeling insecure. Create a mantra to replace discouraging thoughts with encouraging ones. You’ll discover many of your peers can relate.
4. Find true friends. Get a clear idea about the qualities you look for in friends. It’s smart to be picky about who you hold close.
5. Spend time with professors and advisers during their office hours. Sometimes they will meet with small groups of students, making it easier to get to know people.
6. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Accept the fact that you probably will experience some anxiety at the start of college. Just don’t allow fears to cause you to avoid situations that would be beneficial.
7. Create a new picture. Envision what you want as far as friendships, and then relax and allow a new picture to form. Be yourself, put yourself out there and allow your own, unique college experience to unfold.
Tim Jordan, M.D., is a behavioral pediatrician who works with girls in grade school through college in his counseling practice and camps. His newest book is Letters from My Grandfather: Timeless Wisdom for a Life Worth Living. For more information, visit drtimjordan.com.