[Fresh] Home for the holidays

John Immerwahr (john.immerwahr@villanova.edu)
Tue, 12 Dec 2006 15:13:25 -0500

An interview with Dr. Joan G. Whitney, Ph.D. Director of University
Counseling Center

Fresh@News: Most of our students are currently busy wrapping up the
semester, studying for finals and getting ready to go home for the long
semester break. What can parents expect as their son or daughter
arrives home?
Dr. Whitney: First and foremost, parents should not be alarmed if
their son or daughter arrives home and sleeps much more than in the
past, especially for the first few days. It is not uncommon for
students to be sleep-deprived during the last few weeks of classes and
during finals. Often, they are running on empty by the time they
complete all of their papers and final exams, and they may want
to “catch up” on their sleep. In general, parents may notice
different sleep patterns. Students’ sleeping schedules in college
are often very different than what parents were used to seeing when
their student was in high school, and these new habits will most likely
continue once they are home for the holidays. Some parents complain
that the student never seems to be present and awake in the house at
the same time as the parents, with the student asleep in the morning,
out with the high school friends in the evening and only back after the
parents have gone to bed.

Fresh@News: Speaking of habits changing, what other new things might
parents expect from their returning college student?
Dr. Whitney: Parents may notice subtle changes in their son or
daughter. The first semester of college is often a time of great change
and growth, not only in habits and lifestyle, but also in personal
development. Students may be talking about different topics, have new
interests, or simply seem to have matured in their time away from home.
Parents can engage their students in conversations on such topics and
interests to help bring together “home” and “college.” Students may
also spend a great deal of time on the phone or using the computer to
communicate with their friends back at Villanova. They have become
accustomed to feeling very connected to them and may wish to continue
this while they are home.

Fresh@News: You mentioned that students often spend their time at home
with friends from high school. Do you have any advice to parents on
what to expect in regards to these reunions?
Dr. Whitney: There are a few different issues that come up with
students reuniting with friends from home. It is helpful for parents
and the student to discuss expectations about reasonable times to
return home, and how much the student is expected to inform the parents
of when and where he or she will be for the evening. Parents must
remember that the students have had a full semester of living on their
own with fewer boundaries than they experienced before going to
college. They may return home and expect that the rules that once
applied to them while in high school are no longer in effect. It is
important to recognize the student’s growing maturity by extending
appropriate freedom. But, at the same time, parents must also feel
comfortable with the situation. The best way to find a balance is to
have a conversation about your (and their) expectations for the time
they are home.

Fresh@News: Are there any other issues about getting together with old
friends from high school?
Dr. Whitney: Although gathering with high school friends can serve as
a source of comfort and familiarity, it can also create difficulties of
its own. Some students may feel as though they or their friends have
changed while away at school. The group dynamics among their old
friends may have shifted a bit or could seem noticeably different.
These are all normal occurrences, because all of the friends have had
such different experiences over the last four months. So the student
may feel disappointed by the long- anticipated reunions, and the
students may want to talk to their parents about all of that.
Conversations with old friends about their individual college
experiences may also stir up some anxiety or questioning in your own
child, especially if your child had a difficult semester. Among peers,
students often only recount the good stories and accounts from their
first semester. It may appear that everyone has made the successful
transition into college life and loves
their respective schools. This may be the case with some students, but
certainly not with every student. Parents can remind their own children
that they do not always hear the entire story from all of their friends
and if they delve deeper, they may see that they are not alone in their
struggles.

Fresh@News: How about the parents? Are there any issues that come up
for the parents?
Dr. Whitney: Many of our students tell us how much they miss their
families, and how much they want to be home. But, as I just said,
sometimes it seems as though they want to spend all of their time
either talking to their new Villanova friends or visiting with old high
school friends. As parents, we sometimes look forward so much to
having them back with us that we can be almost jealous that we aren’t
getting much time with them. My advice is just to be patient. We
have a long Christmas break this year, and usually after the initial
flurry of catching up, there is plenty of time for the family as well.

Fresh@News: What are some of the other feelings a freshman might be
experiencing during their time at home?
Dr. Whitney: As you have mentioned in some of your earlier interviews,
most of our students have a pretty good experience at Villanova, but it
doesn’t always happen all at once. So if a student has had a harder
time with the transition, the semester break can be a difficult time,
and some students will start to reflect on their experience and worry
that they made a mistake in choosing Villanova. They may entertain the
idea of transferring or taking time off from school. These feelings are
normal and common. Often, students have not yet made connections to
friends at Villanova or developed new college relationships as deep as
the ones they had in high school. This may cause them to worry that
such relationships may never occur at Villanova and leave them
discouraged and hopeless. If a student is having these feelings, it is
important that parents and family give the student the opportunity to
talk about them. The best thing to do is to be supportive and
understanding, offe
ring words of encouragement that it might get easier during the second
semester. Assure them that such feelings are completely normal. In
speaking with upperclassmen, I have found that making solid connections
with both friends and members of the community here takes time. Each
student finds his or her own niche over time, but it often takes some
work and experimentation. On the other hand, your student may have had
such a positive experience during the first semester that he or she
seems to be ready to pack the bags and head back to the Main Line
before New Years!

Fresh@News: What other advice to you have for parents as they prepare
for the arrival of their son or daughter?
Dr. Whitney: My best advice is to be patient and supportive. Freshmen
are constantly in a state of transition and they are still learning and
adjusting to life at Villanova. They may struggle in the process to
find their place here and at home during this period. It is normal to
feel as though your child has changed in their time away. As long as
such changes are not drastic, there is no need to be alarmed. At times,
you may need to be the voice of reassurance, comfort and reality. You
may also need to engage your student in conversations that will help
put your mind at ease about their overall well-being and happiness.
Open communication with your student will be helpful in learning more
about their time away from home and what their needs may be. And, of
course, if you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to
contact the University Counseling Center at 610) 519-4050 or visit us
at
http://www.villanova.edu/studentlife/counselingcenter/parent_info.htm.

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