How Can You Help?
While grappling with the concerns listed above is normal and to be expected, it can be painful to watch your son or daughter struggle. Here are some suggestions to consider as you respond to these situations:
Offer support while encouraging responsibility.
As a parent, it can be difficult to know when to help, when to step back, and/or how
worried to get. Usually a parent's best guideline is to provide a steady, supportive
home base while recognizing that there will be ups and downs in students' needs and
expectations. Try to follow the leads of the students and encourage them to work through
a problem with you acting as the coach or cheerleader. Help them balance their thoughts
and emotions to make their best decisions. Let them know that you respect their right
to make a decision and that you will serve as an advisor when asked. Remind yourself
to notice and appreciate the new skills they develop; students often want their families
to recognize their progress toward becoming adults.
It can be tempting to respond to your son's or daughter's confusion and distress by stepping in and taking charge of the situation, directing it to the resolution you feel is best. While this may seem like the quickest way to alleviate your student's discomfort, it prevents them from having an opportunity to realize and expand their own ability to confront difficult situations and bring about workable solutions. It is important that your child continue to feel your ongoing support and "safety net" as they transition into adulthood, while also taking an appropriate and increasing level of responsibility for working things through for themselves. Their solution will be their own, and the process of arriving at that point can be as important as the outcome itself.
Most parents have a high investment in their student's decisions. Problems arise, however, when parents are more invested than students. It can be hard to lessen involvement in a student's decisions out of fear that the student won't assume responsibility. The irony is that students often don't step up to the task of being responsible until parents step back. After all, it's easier to ignore problems when someone else is worrying about them!
College can be bumpy in the same way that life is bumpy. There will undoubtedly be
times when your son or daughter will stumble, whether academically or socially. They
might not get the grade they'd hoped for on an exam, or their relationship with their
roommate might not be as easy or as close as they had hoped. Maintaining that connection
with a boyfriend or girlfriend at home might prove to be more difficult than they'd
expected. Whatever the scenario, it can be helpful to convey to your student that,
realistically, there will be disappointments and struggles during their transition
to college and during their time here, but that they can get through it and that there
are resources to help if need be.
It can also be helpful to remind yourself that your son or daughter will encounter challenges—that things won't always go the way you or they would hope or that resolving a problem may take some time—but, again, these situations are generally surmountable, and help is always available. Also, be realistic and specific with your child about financial issues including what you will and will not pay for, as well as your expectations for how your son or daughter will spend money. It is also important to be realistic about your child's academic performance, recognizing that not every straight-A student in high school will be a straight-A student in college. Help your children to set their academic goals; encourage them to do their best and to seek assistance if needed.
Balance contact and space.
With cell phones, instant messaging and e-mail, it is easier for families to be in
close contact with each other than ever before. Such contact can provide emotional
help and support during times of transition and crisis, but it is also important to
recognize that your daughter or son needs to establish him- or herself at Skidmore
and find ways to feel fully at home and comfortable here on campus. Part of the developmental
challenge of the next four years for students will be to navigate multiple geographic
moves—from home to campus to study abroad to internships and back again. These moves
provide practice for the bigger challenge ahead: graduation and finding their way
in the "real world." Balancing staying in touch with your son or daughter with allowing
them the space to make their own choices and mistakes is an important piece in helping
your child succeed in college.
Attempt regular communication, but don't be concerned if your student isn't always responsive. Let your student set the agenda for some of your conversations and ask generalized questions. All in all, the less you ask, the more they are likely to tell. Unfortunately, students often only feel an urge to communicate when they are in distress, so you may hear about all of the disappointments without ever hearing about the triumphs in their lives. Try not to worry too much about the occasional emotional phone call or e-mail home. Be patient with that "nothing-is-going-right-I-hate-this-place" communication. You are providing a real service as an advisor, sounding board and sympathetic ear.
There are numerous people and offices on campus that are available to help your son or daughter navigate their time here. Faculty advisors, Residential Life staff members, the Office of Student Academic Support Services, the Director of the First-Year Experience, Campus Safety, Health Services, and the Counseling Center are just a few of the many resources that might be able to lend a hand. Take some time to look at the various office Web pages and to review the Student Handbook to familiarize yourself with what's available, so that you can offer suggestions when your child needs some assistance. If you have questions you want to ask directly, or if a particular problem arises, call the appropriate person, but make sure to involve your child in a collaborative effort to address the problem.
How Can I Tell If My Student Is in Serious Distress?
Many of the problems students face are relatively temporary and students recover fairly quickly. However, if the intensity or persistence of the problems makes it hard for your student to function effectively for longer than a few weeks (e.g., the student is not acting like her/his "normal self," grades are declining, withdrawal from family and friends), or if your student is experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings, it is advisable to encourage your student to come to the Counseling Center right away. We recommend that you allow your son or daughter to take the initiative in accessing our services. Part of the therapeutic process involves him/her taking responsibility for his/her well-being by taking the initiative to schedule an appointment. To access services your student can stop by the Counseling Center, located on the first floor of Jonsson Tower, or call (518) 580-5555 to schedule an appointment.
Services Provided by the Skidmore College Counseling Center
The Counseling Center provides free, confidential services for Skidmore students, including short-term individual and group counseling, emergency psychological services, and outreach programming.
The Counseling Center also provides consultations to parents who are concerned about their students. Such consultations can focus on a range of issues, including how to assist a student experiencing a difficult situation, how to refer a student to the Center, or how to locate appropriate mental health treatment for student. To secure a consultation, call the Counseling Center at (518) 580-5555 and ask to speak with a counselor.
Student Confidentiality and Parents
Confidentiality is an essential part of the counseling relationship we establish with students, and the Counseling Center staff adheres to ethical and legal standards regarding confidentiality. These standards and laws prevent us from speaking with concerned parents about their student's contact with the Center unless we have the student's written permission. Thus, unless your student gives us written permission, we cannot acknowledge whether your student has been seen at the Center, is attending therapy or medication consultation sessions or anything about the content of what your student might share with us. The only exceptions to this legally and ethically mandated confidentiality occur when a student is under 18 years of age or if there is a serious concern about a student's imminent safety or the safety of others.
Please contact Andrew Demaree, Psy.D., Director of the Counseling Center, if you have any questions about our confidentiality standards.