~ By Michael Borowiak, MSW, LICSW
As I reflect on the transition to college that many young people are going through in the next 30 days I can’t help but think of my mother and my youngest brother, who is a college professor at Haverford College in Philadelphia.
My mother amazed me with her ability to rapidly make connections with people, wherever she happened to move. Growing up we experienced several moves, and my mother was the one who reached out and met as many neighbors as she could. From her own past growing up attending multiple schools, she developed a knack for connecting with others, creating a new social network of neighbors, school parents and church members. This often started with an act of grace and kindness by bringing a homemade batch of cookies over to the neighbors to make this important connection. To this day, my mother has an ability to make connections, no matter where she moves.
My brother at Haverford shared with me that he sees the greatest challenge for incoming freshmen as the development of a new social network, even more important than learning the new academic expectations and rigor found in college. In high school our students have family and a strong support system of other students who, for many, grew up with them. When academic stress was experienced, this social support system was activated to help mitigate it, through supportive words and if needed, getting a child into therapy to help him or her to overcome any struggle that presents itself. Upon entering college, this system of support is not present, requiring each to reach out to fellow students to find common interests and experiences that allow, over time, for the development of new friendships and support. I’m not sure if making cookies and bringing them to the neighbor in the dormitory will “break the ice” between them and build connections. Some of our students will have a natural ability to make these connections, while others may struggle. This may tell us that, as parents, our work is not quite done when our kids graduate from high school. Many young adults need our supportive thoughts and ideas for building new relationships in college.
So, as we launch our children into college, ask your son or daughter, what “plate of cookies,” or act of grace and kindness, he/she will bring to others in an effort to build a social network? What will he/she do to make new connections while in college? Talk with your son or daughter about his/her comfort in reaching out to build these new relationships. If he/she is not ready, help him/her get support from the network used now and if necessary, get him/her to a therapist who can help in the short term with this important life task: creating a new social support system.
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