"I Hate It Here!"

    How to handle those distressed calls from your college freshmen.

    by Mimi Greenwood Knight

    The transition from high school senior to college freshman is monumental.

    Smitty Gaden of Covington, Louisiana knows this too well. In the past five years, she's survived the transition with all three of her children. She says it can feel a little like sending them into the lions' den, and says there are days she hates to hear the phone ring for fear of the news it might bring.

    "Recently my son Boh, a college freshman, called to say he'd slept through his alarm, missed an exam, and would receive a '0' for the class," says Smitty. "I felt torn between wanting to wring his neck and wanting to climb through the phone line, put my arm around him, and tell him everything would be OK."

    Smitty is hardly alone. Most parents of college freshmen will admit they hold their breath when the phone rings, especially at odd hours. That's why we talked to some college officials about how to best handle those dreaded calls, if or when they come.

    We think you'll appreciate their sound, practical advice.

    Phone Call No. 1

    "I hate it here! I want to come home."

    Bowling: Try to clarify what drives these feelings. Is there a roommate problem? Loneliness? Academic problems? Most students have trouble adjusting to college life at first. There's separation anxiety, culture shock, newfound freedom, all thrown at them at once. It can be overwhelming, and coming home may look like an easy out. At any rate, approach this subject long before your child packs up for school. Say, "A lot of students feel like they hate college at first. If you should start feeling that way, call me and we'll talk." If you do receive this call, encourage your child to hold steady. When he gets over the initial shock, he'll probably learn to love the school.

    Dugger: As a parent you need to ask some questions. "Are you going to class? What are you doing after class? What are you doing at night? Have you made any friends?" If your child is sitting in his room every night instead of getting out and meeting other students, what he's feeling is loneliness and isolation. Often a student who was particularly popular and successful in high school gets to college and realizes they're just like everybody else. That has a big effect on how they feel about the place. The best thing parents can do is encourage their child to get out and make friends and talk to someone (their resident assistant, a counselor, a dean of students) about their needs and unhappiness.

    Held: I agree. "I hate it here" is not an unusual response early in freshman year. It may be related to a boyfriend or girlfriend back home. If so, and the friend has gone off to school too, remind your child that coming home isn't going to solve anything. I suggest parents work a deal with their student. Bargain for time. One semester is best. That way even if she does come home she'll have credits to transfer and a semester under her belt. Encourage her to seek out her resident assistant (R.A.). R.A.'s are usually personally involved with the student. They'll start to build a relationship, and most students end up staying because of a relationship with another student, a counselor or a professor.

    Phone Call No. 2

    "It's too hard. I'm afraid I'll flunk out."

    Bowling: These feelings are completely normal, and there's a lot that can be done to relieve them. Most colleges offer tutoring programs. Encourage your child to get in touch with those programs, and to approach the professor teaching the course. Have him take his notebook and say, "These are the notes I'm taking in your class. Can you see anything I'm missing?" or "This is the way I'm studying for your tests. Is there a better way I can be doing it?" Ask the prof if there's a study group he can hook up with. Basically he needs to ask the professor, "What can I do to make a better grade in your class?"