Maureen was featured in an article on Helping Your Graduate Make a Smooth Transition to College, written by Georgette Gilmore
High school seniors are going to Prom, taking finals and getting ready to put on robes and caps to graduate. Soon after that, many will be packing their suitcases and getting ready to leave their homes for college. For most, it will begin a period of “firsts.” The first time on their own, the first time having a roommate, and (Gulp!) their first kegger. It can be scary and even scarier for parents.
Maureen P. Tillman, L.C.S.W., is the founder and director of College with Confidence, a comprehensive psychotherapy service, with offices in Maplewood and Morristown, that supports parents and young adults through the college experience. We recently spoke to her to get some advice for parents of soon to be graduates.
Barista Kids: Maureen, it’s graduation time! Many parents are thinking about the upcoming transition to college. What are some ways parents can help their high school graduates before they launch?
Maureen Tillman: I would say keep it real. Transitioning to college is not a magical experience. It can be very challenging. Parents need to send the message to their kids that this is normal and that it’s important for to honestly communicate if they find themselves struggling. When college students start sinking, they often feel that they can pull themselves up, and feel too ashamed to tell their parents about academic and personal problems (which often get glued together).
During the last two months before the launch, insist that he or she take care of everything that you might normally do: making and keeping appointments, picking up medications, doing laundry, or making calls about college issues, no matter how busy you think they are! If they struggle, role-play the situations. Talk realistically about any issues they are facing, whether it’s stress, anxiety, depression, or social anxiety, and about how they can help themselves at college. If they are being treated for any medical or psychiatric disorder or have learning disabilities, work on understanding all dimensions of the challenge and how to self-advocate. This can be difficult if your teen and you have trouble communicating or they brush you off.
If your son or daughter’s behavior concerns you, consult a mental health professional.
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BK: I understand that the service you created, College with Confidence, is a suicide prevention program. What does that mean?
MT: Beginning ten years ago, an increasing number of college students who needed to leave college because of emotional issues, including suicidal attempts, have contacted me for counseling. Their parents were often confused by what had happened. College students can sink into a depression very quickly and are at risk of committing suicide. My commitment to suicide prevention and expertise in transition preparation merged, and I created College with Confidence, a proactive counseling and consulting service for students, parents, physicians, schools, mental health providers, and college advisors.
BK: Why is going to college considered a transition that puts students at risk?
MT: In the blink of an eye, students no longer have the benefit of watchful parents, teachers, good friends and community ties. Many try to stop using the medications and supports they had at home. The experiences students have with roommates, teachers, advisors, and social environments differ tremendously. Also this is the age when a number of psychiatric disorders surface.
BK: How do you help students prepare for college in your practice?
MT: I am a psychotherapist with 35 years of experience, so I treat a range of concerns and diagnoses, the most common being anxiety, depression, stress, bi-polar disorder, and social anxiety. Using a supportive and interactive style, I give students a range of effective coping tools, including cognitive-behavioral skills and mindfulness tools. I work collaboratively with college advisors, tutors, and essay coaches. When college is about six months away, we plan ahead by setting up supports on campus. I follow through when they are on campus, by phone, Skype and sessions on their breaks.
BK: As a mom to elementary school-aged kids, I’m thinking ahead. What can parents of younger children do to foster the confidence and healthy coping skills that are greatly needed by graduation?
MT: First, there are many misconceptions about how to foster confidence in your children. It’s not about praising them a lot, or them winning trophies. Developing life skills is a great foundation for confidence and happiness. Effective parents help their children develop academic and social assertiveness, resilience, problem-solving skills, financial literacy, comfort with diversity, and a healthy perspective on issues related to sex, drugs and alcohol.