High school seniors around the country are counting the days until graduation. With college just over the horizon, it's both an exciting and stressful time for these teenage gals. But getting your daughter prepped for college isn't just about helping her decorate her dorm room.
Different Stresses Today
While today's young women face many of the same challenges that college students did ten or even 20 years ago - like living away from home, cramming for exams, figuring out a major and, of course, juggling college parties - there are new, modern stresses, too. Shari Fish is a certified wellness coach in Houston. She's also a mom who's about to send her third kid off to college. Using her personal experience and professional knowledge, she's on a mission to educate girls and their parents about campus life.
Shari says the college experience is just different for today's girls. According to Shari, "The biggest difference is the 'hook-up' culture versus dating, which creates a good deal of stress and confusion. Furthermore, social networking has created a culture where everyone knows what everyone else is doing, and with whom, at all times. The higher drinking age has led to a lethal combination of alcohol 'pre-gaming' and secrecy."
Juddeth-Morgahn Miller is a senior at the University of Houston. She agrees that the social scene is stressful and warns girls to watch out for what she calls "puppy love." "Girls (myself included) get to college and get stir crazy because an older guy asked for their number," says Juddeth-Morgahn. "Boy, if I knew then what I know now. The older guys know the younger ones are naive and they take major advantage of that". Kate Fernandez is also a senior at the University of Houston. She shares similar advice. "The advice I'd offer to incoming freshman is to just say no to boys. Imagine them like drugs, not good for you until at least second semester sophomore year."
Looking back, Juddeth-Morgahn adds that, "Timing was a huge stress my first year." Shari cites this as one of the biggest challenges for the new student. "Students often feel overwhelmed by the many demands on their time and energy and are searching for where they 'fit in'."
The scary Stats
Drugs, drinking and sex are everyday realities for college girls. The National Institute on Drug and Alcohol Abuse (NIDA) says that more than 97,000 students between the ages of 18-25 are victims of alcohol-related sex assault or rape.
But don't think those are the only things to worry about. Eating disorders are a problem, too.
25% of college-aged women engage in binging and purging as a weigh-management technique. Source: The ANAD (Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders Association)
The two major life transitions that most commonly contribute to the onset of eating disorder are puberty and leaving for college. Source: NationalEatingDisorders.org
Empowering Our Girls
Ok, so enough scary statistics. You've got to let them leave the nest sometime. What can today's parents send their daughters off to college with - to better protect and empower themselves? "It is not what parents forget to say; most of the students have a lot of 'information'. It is more about setting realistic expectations and helping the girls to develop the mindset and resiliency necessary to overcome challenges and disappointments," says Shari. "There’s a lot more involved in going off to college than choosing a roommate and picking out your bedding. After giving your daughter every opportunity for success these past 18 years, don’t send her off to college unprepared for her new independence."
Three "Things" For Girls To Take To College
Shari advises that you make sure your daughter takes three "things" with her to college:
1. Realistic expectations
"Students so often go off to school with expectations of the 'perfect' school, the 'perfect' major, the 'perfect' roommate, professor or class. They are so excited to be at their 'dream' school and to be independent but they are less prepared for disappointment, stress and pressure." Shari continues, "When girls understand that feeling overwhelmed or 'out of sorts' at times is part of the transition process, they are more likely to seek support from friends or others and to focus less on the problems and more on the possibilities."
2. A clear vision of vision of "who" she is
Shari explains that, "By giving serious thought to her values, interests, strengths, and motivators, a student can 'paint a picture' of her best self. While her path remains largely unknown, this vision can serve as her guide through the countless decisions that await her."
3. An open mind
"Freshman year is a time to explore. No longer are you 'the soccer forward' or 'the class president.' It is not enough to say that English is your favorite subject when you have countless English classes to choose from. You may find yourself near a beach or mountains for the first time. You may find that Zoology is your favorite class, even though you are only taking it because Biology was already full. Do not define yourself as 'a' or 'b.' Stay open to opportunities to engage, grow and explore. You will never have as many wonderful resources at your disposal as you do during your college years."
GalTime talked to another expert on girls, Rita Kirkup. She's the Executive Director of Girls Inc. of Greater Houston, where they start talking to girls as early as age six about their future. "We talk to them continuously about different careers and what it takes for them to get there," says Rita. "We always encourage the girls to ask as many questions as possible and to be really involved in what they are doing. We encourage independence (of action and thought) and empower them to be whatever they choose to be. These are great tools for a college student." Rita has her own list of the top three things each incoming college freshman should "pack" for school:
1. Take a sense of adventure
"You will never be exposed to as many ideas and new people in a setting like this again – so embrace as much of it as you can – take risks, try new things, and be open to the new ideas you’ll be hearing about," says Rita.
2. Bring your support network
Rita advises, "Stay in touch with your friends and family back at home – college is an amazing adventure but having your friends and family to lean on can really help you through times of change and stress."
3. Take your music collection
"Nothing helped me get through a long night of studying better than listening to my favorite music."
Knowledge = Success
While you won't be there to hold your daughter's hand every step of the way (not that she'd want you to anyway!), you can encourage her to follow Shari's advice. "I would suggest that the girls attend their college orientations with an open mind, that they go to the activity fairs that many campuses offer, and participate in dorm mixers. Perhaps connect with upperclassmen and alumni from their hometown before leaving home and on school social media sites," says Shari.
Katherine Stackel is the Eductation and Outreach Manager for The Women’s Fund. Katherine says that knowledge is essential to success. “Research has shown that when women are provided with tools to make healthy goals and decisions, they are more likely to bounce back from bad situations as a result of those resiliency skills."
Do you have a daughter in college? Or do you have one headed to college? Any advice for other moms - or for college-bound girls?