Your teenager graduated high school, and is finally off to college! Mission accomplished, right? Not necessarily. The transition between high school and college is tremendous. During this time, teens are dealing with the stress of becoming an adult, and are beginning the process of defining themselves.
In a brand new social environment, they juggle high academic expectations, homesickness, household responsibilities, many times job responsibilities, and the often tricky prospect of making new friends and finding their place on campus.
According to Transition Year, a guidebook for parents of college students, “…studies show that emotional issues, from stress and anxiety to conditions like depression and eating disorders, are a leading impediment to academic success among college students today.” And its friends first, not parents, that these struggling students statistically turn to for help.
“I don’t know if all of this is for me.”
Those are the words I heard from Joe, a freshman I met when I was once serving as a Welcome Weekend counselor, and those words are heard all too often at colleges all over the country.
Joe, like so many other new high school graduates, needed guidance. As a senior, and a student very active in campus life, I invited Joe to check out a community service group I was involved in. During the first meeting, Joe came alive. He was interested and enthusiastic. He obviously wanted to become part of the group, and had the potential to really thrive.
But Joe began hanging around with a crowd of kids that lead him astray. He started failing classes and getting into trouble. Like any teenager embarking on this new, adult lifestyle, Joe was struggling to find his identity away from the safety and structure of high school and home. Facing the pressures and challenges of being a teenager can be overwhelming.
Indeed, the process of self-development takes time, and often the guidance of a peer that the teenager trusts and respects- a mentor- helps smooth the rocky trail from adolescence into adulthood. Eventually Joe made some positive changes, and was thankful that I was there to help him along the way.
“Steve was always there to show me another side of how things were, how something bad can become positive,” he said. “My grades went up, my attitude changed and I was able to move on from getting in trouble and hanging with the wrong crowd. Steve cared and always saw potential in me.”
Joe eventually gained his footing, became more confident, and pursued the path in life that made him happy.
He was fortunate, because according to the U.S. Census and American College Testing Program, 34% of college freshmen drop out after their first year! Surprisingly, it’s not just academic stress that generally causes freshmen to quit school.
While some teens choose another career route that takes them away from college, many quit because they are having a hard time balancing all of their new responsibilities. Add in the huge task of figuring out who they are, where they fit in, and what they want to do with the rest of their lives, and this transitional period can become overwhelming.
But that doesn’t have to be the case for your teen. With help, they can make sense of it all, like Joe. Having a supportive relationship with a mentor can powerfully influence your teenage college student’s life, enough so to keep them bound for a cap and gown. You want nothing less than success for your child. But you can’t be everything to them, nor should you be. This is where a mentor, an older and more mature individual, can step in and help fill some very important shoes. They become a confidant, a “tour guide,” a counselor, tutor, and a friend.
Joe and I had a good mentor relationship. Because we had a lot in common, we were able to spend quality time together doing things that we both enjoyed. It never felt like a chore… it was never forced. We had a friendship rather than a commitment. Trust came easily, and it’s that trust which allows a mentor to have positive influence in a teen’s life. Someone to trust, someone to talk to and just form a bond with, is especially important at this vulnerable point in a teenager’s self-construction.
My recommendation is to find a well-matched mentor for your teenager, whether they are college-bound, career-bound, or simply trying to figure out their next step in life. You can find mentors through college and university programs, community based organizations, churches, or simply through friends and family.
Your teenager has already accomplished too much, and come too far. Don’t let your child become a statistic. Get them on the road to success and happiness. Help them find a mentor now.