For the Parents
For those of you sending a child to college, or perhaps away from home for the first time, the transition can be a challenging one. Adjusting to an empty (or emptier) nest, shifting roles from primary caregiver to "supporter" at a distance, and learning to communicate in different and less frequent ways are all demands that require patience and new approaches.
Adjusting to College
As you and your child are adjusting to the new college experience it is important to maintain regular contact with your child, while at the same time allowing space for your child to approach you and set the agenda for some of your conversations. Let your child know that you respect and support his or her right to make independent decisions and that you will serve as an advocate and an advisor when asked. Additionally, recognize that it is normal for your child to seek your help one day and reject it the next. Such behavior can be confusing and exhausting for parents, so make sure to take care of yourself by talking about your feelings with your own support system. Don’t be surprised to get those ‘nothing is going right I hate this place’ phone calls or messages. Unfortunately, you may hear regularly about the difficult times and very rarely about the positive ones, so goes the sometimes thankless job of being a supportive parent. So don’t be concerned if one night the world is ending and the next day your child acts as if that tirade last night never happened or was no big deal…take a deep breath and relax, this is normal behavior for college students.
When it seems like more
However, sometimes you may observe what seems to be significantly different than the normal range of behaviors and emotions of a developing young adult. As a parent, friend, or family member of a Lehigh student, you can consult with the University Counseling and Psychological Services (UCPS) professional staff at any time regarding your concern about a particular student or situation. Perhaps we can help, either by providing information or in facilitating a referral.
In an Emergency or Crisis Situation
In emergency situations in which your child is unwilling or unable to contact the UCPS directly, one can call either Campus Police at 610-758-4200, the Dean of Student’s Office at 610-758-4156, or our office at 610-758-3880; the UCPS has an on-call system with a staff member available 24 hours a day for consultation. We at the UCPS are unable to call or check in on your child for you, however If you are concerned for your child’s safety you should contact their Gryphon, Residence Life Coordinator, or the Office of the Dean of Student’s during business hours (Mon-Fri from 8am-5pm); if after hours or on weekends contact the Campus Police and they will connect you with the appropriate on-call professional staff. If there is serious concern that the student is at risk you should contact the Dean of Student’s Office directly at 610-758-4156. They will be able to determine if checking in on your child is necessary and can quickly facilitate this process.
A word about confidentiality and the parameters in which we work based on our professional role. The relationship between counselor and client is one that is based on trust and to that end is kept confidential, meaning that we are unable to release information about your child. Professionally we are obligated to protect our client’s rights to privacy and are only able to release information to the level our client has requested. If students request to sign a Release of Information form specifying what and with whom they would like us to share information regarding their treatment, then we may be able to discuss their therapy with you. However, if they have not signed a release form we are unable to speak about their counseling and are not at liberty to confirm or deny that they have been seen at the Counseling Center. Even if we do not have a signed release form we welcome you to still share information or direct questions to our professional staff, as we are able to listen to your concerns and may be able to provide some guidance in how you might proceed in helping your child.
FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
What should I expect during the transition to college?
What to expect from my son/daughter
College will likely be a time of intellectual stimulation and growth, emotional ups and downs, career exploration and development, increased autonomy, self-exploration and discovery, and social involvement. For many students this is a time of forging new identities as well as time to test and clarify many of their personal values and beliefs. This process takes time and generally requires an examination of self, friends, and family. It may also be a time for exploration and experimentation, and a period in which your child may question or challenge the values you hold dear. The changes that students may experience can also occur quickly, as they begin to develop new peer relationships, gain competence in new areas, and learn to manage independence. It is important to recognize that every student will experience unique challenges and adjustments, similarly parents will have their own way of adjusting to their child’s college transition.
What to expect for myself
This aspect of the parent’s experience is often overlooked. The fact is that the college experience is a significant transition for the parents of college students, too. As parents, you may experience a range of emotions similar to what you are observing in your child - - from feelings of happiness, excitement, and pride to times of sadness, anxiety and pain. Parents may worry about students’ safety and ability to effectively care for themselves. You may fear "losing" your child as he or she begins to function more independently and forms deep attachments with peers. It’s not uncommon to have mixed emotions as your child becomes less dependent on you to make his or her decisions. Additionally, you may be concerned about how your child will deal with alcohol, drugs, and sexual relationships. All of these are rather common concerns for parents as they adjust to a child taking on more personal responsibility.
There are ways that you can support your child in this process with the key being your ability to provide an open line of communication with your child. Letting your child know you are there to talk and then allowing him or her to talk freely will let your child know he or she can see you as a sounding board for the many difficult decisions made in that first major foray into independence. Keep in mind that mistakes will occur. Ideally you will let your child know you expect them to, and are there to help pick up the pieces during the failed efforts.
What can I do if I am concerned about my son/daughter?
Express your support
Be a supportive listener; listen to their concerns fully
Try not to jump straight into problem solving mode
Suggest campus resources
Refer to our website for information
Contact us to consult
Communicate your concern directly and as much as possible try to be specific about the statements/behaviors that have aroused your concern. In doing so it is always best to avoid making generalizations. Express your love and support - let him or her know you are there to comfort and assist. Lend an open ear and state your desire to help in any way you can.
Sometimes a supportive listener and a place to vent is all that is needed. Other times, some reassurance that things won’t always be this way and you will be there to listen can provide some comfort.
In your efforts to provide this support, try to avoid jumping straight into problem solving mode. Allowing your child to express his or her emotions and ideas is as important as helping him or her figure out what to do. You may also suggest your child make use of the many resources of trained Lehigh student leaders and professionals that specialize in working with college students. Campus resources include the Gryphon, Residence Life Coordinators, Academic Support Services, and the UCPS. If after speaking with your child you may suggest that what he or she is sharing with you may best be discussed with a counselor at the UCPS. If he or she is reluctant to make an appointment, encourage your child to look at our website. Students can browse our site to gather information. There are many helpful resources linked to our homepage along with information that may help your child feel more comfortable with our office and staff before deciding whether or not to schedule an appointment. You are always welcome to contact our center to discuss ways to speak with your child about this process.
What are some signs I should be looking for in my child that may indicate he or she might benefit from meeting with a counselor at the UCPS?
Below are some indicators that might be helpful in making a decision about referring your son/daughter to the Counseling Center. To prevent possible over-interpretation of a single or an isolated behavior, it is advisable to look for clusters of signs which appear at approximately the same time. Some possible signs are:
Has interpersonal difficulties/relationship problems
Seems highly anxious, constantly tearful, or "stressed out"
Has experienced some recent or past trauma (i.e.- sexual assault, death of friend/family member) that is interfering with his/her ability to function in an academic or social environment
Exhibits odd, peculiar, or bizarre behavior
Loses interest in her or his personal appearance
Appears depressed, withdrawn, and/or has little motivation for academic/social/occupational pursuits
References to suicide or self harm
Statements that reflect low self worth or lack of hope
Significant changes in weight
If my child schedules an appointment at the UCPS what can he or she expect at their first appointment?
When students arrive at our center they will check in with the front desk and be asked to fill out some basic paperwork about themselves and review some paperwork about UCPS policies and procedures. They will then have a chance to meet with their assigned therapist, where they have the opportunity to discuss what has brought them into the center. They can expect their therapist to work collaboratively with them to decide what the most appropriate course of action will be based on their unique circumstances, issues, and needs. The options often include setting up short term individual counseling, suggestions for joining one of our center’s therapy groups, a referral to another LU campus resource (i.e. the Health Center, Career Services, Academic Support Services) or a referral to a professional in the community. Your child can expect their counselor to be quite helpful in assisting him or her in facilitating these referrals.
What kind of counseling services does the UCPS provide?
The UCPS provides individual, group, consultative, and referral services for Lehigh graduate and undergraduate students
Typically counseling services at the UCPS are free of charge for Lehigh students, however there are circumstances (i.e.-when students are mandated by the court system for counseling;, testing) when there may be a charge for services provided
Individual counseling at the UCPS is usually short-term and time limited and students who require ongoing long term individual therapy typically make arrangements to see therapists in the local private sector. However, because the psychotherapy groups offered at the UCPS are generally ongoing and not time limited, if you know your child is likely to require ongoing counseling, you may want to discuss this option with him or her.
Typically students are seen within one week from the date they call to make an appointment. However, if it appears to be an emergency or crisis situation, professional staff will make arrangements to meet with the student that day.
How can I help my son/daughter find a therapist in the community?
For some students it may be most appropriate for them to receive therapy services outside of the University. For those who will be best served seeing a therapist in the community, the Counseling Center maintains professional contact with a number of mental health care professionals in the area. We are able to meet with a student and work together to identify a therapist who works well with the student's concerns and help facilitate a referral to an outside professional.
My child has been receiving psychiatric services at home and needs to continue to get medication at Lehigh University. Do you provide psychiatric services and how can he/she make an appointment?
Yes, we do provide limited psychiatric services through the counseling center. However, due to high demand such services are limited to those students that are actively participating in regular therapy at the UCPS through either individual or group therapy modalities. Therefore any student wishing to receive medications through our consulting psychiatrist must make an appointment with one of our therapists for an intake appointment to determine whether a referral to our consulting psychiatrist or to a professional in the local community will be most appropriate. Students can also contact the Lehigh University Health Center 610-758-3870, to discuss the potential for obtaining their medications through the Health Center. Professionals from the UCPS and the Health Center often work together in coordinating therapy and medication for Lehigh students. For those students who do not wish to engage in therapy and only desire medication they can contact the UCPS to receive an outside referral.
Does the UCPS conduct assessments for ADHD or Learning Disabilities?
The UCPS does not provide testing for ADHD or other learning disabilities. If your son/daughter is interested in this type of assessment we can meet with him/her to provide referrals to community resources that provide such services. Additionally, we would likely refer your child to LU’s Academic Support Services and assist him/her in making an appointment to speak with a Learning Support Specialist.
Where can I find additional information/resources?
Letting Go: A Parent's Guide to Understanding the College Years by Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger. © 2003 – 4th Edition
Don't Tell Me What to Do, Just Send Money by Helen Johnson and Christine Schelhas-Miller © 2000 Griffin
Once my Child, Now my Friend by Elinor Lenz © 1985 (reissue) Warner Books
You’re On Your Own (But I’m Here if You Need Me): Mentoring Your Child During the College Years By Marjorie Savage © 2003 Fireside
When Your Kid Goes to College: A Parents Survival Guide By Carol Barkin © 1999 Avon
- Student Life Survival Guide
Finally, the UCPS provides consultations to parents, family and friends who are concerned about their child, relative or friend. Such consultations can focus on a range of issues. Common topics include; how to refer a student to the UCPS, how to assist a student experiencing a difficult situation, or how to facilitate a referral to a mental health care provider in the local community.
To speak with a UCPS staff member about your concerns please call the UCPS at (610) 758-3880 and ask to consult with one of our therapists. If a staff member is available he or she will speak with you at that time, however if all are currently busy, please leave a message with our administrative staff and one of our senior staff members will return your call as soon as possible.