Dear Harlan: I am a parent of a current freshman in college. She is your typical quiet, introverted and socially awkward teen. She has been having difficulty making friends in school. Fortunately, she is keeping up with her academics, but she is unhappy with what is going on socially. She is doing “all the right things” by attending a weekly group session at the on-campus counseling center with kids experiencing similar anxieties. She also has gotten involved in the sailing team and Model United Nations. However, she often finds herself without any social plans and sometimes stays in her room during the weekends. We speak on the phone about once a week, and I try to offer strategies that will help her get more involved. As her mother, I am worried that she is not truly happy with college life. As a side note, she is one of those kids who takes a while to get acclimated to new experiences. I often tell her that she will come into herself at her own pace, but she sees groups of kids hanging out and wishes shewere one of them. Any suggestions? — Worried Mom
Dear Worried Mom: You’re only as happy as your least happy child, right? Worrying is normal (and loving). You just need more patience. It’s the hardest part of her job (and your job). No one has enough of it. Patience is the ability to tolerate discomfort. Her level of discomfort sounds normal for someone who has a history of taking a while to get acclimated. Encourage her to find places on the weekends that don’t require an invitation. She can get a part-time job or find a responsibility that will require her to be out of her room and around people. She can get involved in a group or organization that runs weekend events. For example, campus activity boards plan weekend events (concerts, comedians, speakers, etc.), residence halls host events and religious groups host dinners. She can work part time at a campus coffee shop, restaurant or sporting venue that hosts evening events. Encourage her to talk to people on campus to find support and ideas to get involved – professors, student leaders, counselors and advisers should be able to give ideas and support. Change is hard, but give her more time. It might be all she needs.