By ModiHealth practitioner, Jane Johnson Wall, MA, LMFT, PMH-C – Marriage & Family Therapist & Perinatal Mental Health Certification. To schedule a session with Jane, click HERE
The transition to college is typically a stressful one for families. However, the transition during a
pandemic brings the intensity to a whole other level. The classes of 2020 and 2021 (and their
parents) have proven their ability to adapt to changing circumstances. As these students head
off to college, there are new factors to consider.
Just as new parents go through a “nesting” process before bringing home a baby, there is a
“soiling the nest” process as young adults transition out of the house. It can be difficult for
parents to not personalize some of the exchanges that happen, as sometimes hurtful words are
spoken. Everyone is stressed, in both positive and negative ways. There is excitement for
upcoming changes, but also anxiety about the unknowns. It’s important to recognize that both
parents and children are navigating through similar emotions.
The push/pull of parenting young adults often feels like a repeat of the “terrible 2’s,” complete
with power struggles and tantrums! As these young people are getting ready to go to college to
experience a new level of independence, parents are understandably concerned about their
children’s ability to manage their newfound freedom. Developmentally, it is appropriate for
teenagers to assert their senses of self, and often reject what they perceive to be “limitations”
that may be put on them. The pandemic interrupted this process, as it required families to spend
increased time together.
Even when parents feel confident in their children’s abilities to make “good” choices, it can be
difficult to surrender to the idea of not being able to monitor their progress. Living away from
one’s family provides many opportunities for growth and personal development. However, being
in a new environment, during a time of stress and uncertainty, can make the transition even
more difficult, for both parents and students.
Here are some considerations that may offer some reassurance:
1. Recognize the resiliency that your child has demonstrated. Completing their education
during a pandemic required flexibility and creativity. Your child probably learned to
advocate for themselves in new ways, and has also learned to process disappointment.
These are characteristics that will serve them well, in college, and beyond.
2. When young adults need to figure things out on their own, they are typically able to rise
to the occasion. Sometimes, as parents, we inadvertently limit our children’s
opportunities for growth. (Yes, their laundry may not get folded as neatly, and they may
not eat meals that are as well-balanced! Remember when they were toddlers, and
would only eat from the “beige” food group??! They will make it through this!).
3. Colleges have more student support services available, including online options. The
pandemic has helped highlight the importance of mental health, and academic
institutions really want kids to have successful experiences, both in and out of the
classroom. Accessing support services is easier than ever, and utilizing them has been
4. Personal accountability and community responsibility will be ongoing themes on
campuses. Colleges want to manage the pandemic successfully, and will make
expectations clear. If your student does not comply, there will be consequences. (As
much as parents talk about shutting off wi-fi, they rarely do it. However, if your student
misses their appointment window for mandatory COVID testing, the college may swiftly
block their access!).
Most of all, try to remember to focus on your excitement regarding your child’s
accomplishments. This is your time to be a voice of encouragement and praise. They have
come this far, and they need to be reminded of your faith in their ability to manage what is next.
(Even if they do not manage it quite like you do!)