When your child goes off to college, it’s tempting to think that you get to take a vacation from the job of parenting. But think twice about this idea. Your child may need your help as much as ever.
Young people get to “start over again” in college, ditching all their high school baggage and remaking themselves as they make new friends and find new mentors. But kids don’t lose their emotional weaknesses. It’s critical that those who have psychiatric and/or learning problems not try to hide them; they need to find the support and accommodations they need to be happy and successful in their new settings.
So what should moms and dads do to prepare their teens for college?
• Let the college know if your child has a psychiatric or learning disorder. During the application process, students are encouraged to keep their psychiatric history private. But now you should let the appropriate officials know of the diagnosis, treatment needs, and required classroom accommodations, whether for ADHD, dyslexia, depression, or another disorder.
• Make sure he has the paperwork in hand. You’ll need to gather the documentation (neurospychological evaluations and any school reports indicating the need for accommodations) to verify for university officials what your child needs and deserves.
• Discuss with your child the need to own the diagnosis and be his own advocate. Many students discontinue treatment during freshman year. Stopping therapy/medication will cause the relapse of most psychiatric disorders and put a vulnerable teen at greater risk for suicide.
• Make sure he knows that mental health services and classroom accommodations are a right, not a privilege. He’s not asking the school for favors: Colleges are required to provide to students with disorders the help they need to have equal access to an education in the same way they’re required to provide a ramp for students in wheelchairs.
• Investigate whether your insurance will cover mental health services at your child’s college. Most universities provide mental health services as part of the student health package. However, some plans exclude coverage for psychiatrists, psychologists, and pharmacies. To complicate things further, many students would rather receive treatment off campus. If your child prefers off-campus mental health services, you should help him contact the university now to get referrals for qualified mental health professionals in the area.
• Don’t live in denial. Don’t think that the Arizona sunshine or the prestige of Harvard will cure your child’s psychiatric disorder. Don’t assume that he doesn’t need assistance in getting accommodations and services. Encouraging him to be up front about what he needs can be hugely important in giving him a good start at a healthy college life.