First Year A Rough Start; Stick It Out or Move On?

sad depressed lonely adolescent teen boy

Dear Harlan: My son is a freshman in college. He has had a rough semester. His roommate was a nightmare. The roommate drank at all hours and brought home overnight guests. He had no regard for my son or his early-A.M. classes. My son’s grades have suffered; he used to be in the top of his class. He has made some friends, but not close friends. He wants to transfer to an out-of-state school that is far less competitive but closer to his friends and girlfriend. We want him to stick it out at his current school for at least a year. How hard should we push for him to stick it out? He is so unsure of himself. We want him to be strong, but we don’t want him to give up. He worked so hard to get into his current school. What should we do to support him?

— Another Mom

Dear Another Mom:  Listen. Parents forget to listen. Some students need a break. It can be mentally, physically and emotionally grueling to go from being a straight-A high school student to being average at a highly competitive college. It’s even harder without a support system in place. Sure, I like experiencing a full year to work through the uncomfortable, but sometimes that’s too much. Have him talk to a counselor at school, and a therapist. Encourage him to speak to upperclassmen, too. Suggest that he put together a plan of what will be different at the next school. The transfer plan should include places where he’ll find connections, people he will connect with, and a timeline. His girlfriend can be one of his people, but he needs to have at least four other people. Once he has a transition plan in place, he can start to practice some of the steps at his current school. Maybe he can finish out the year. There’s nothing to gain from being miserable and alone at an ultra-competitive school versus thriving at a school where he has passion and a plan. Let him know that whatever he decides, you will always support him.

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We All Understand What It’s Like to Be Misunderstood

Sad Woman Silhouette Worried On The BeachDear Harlan,
People don’t seem to understand me. I know I’m a child and a geek at heart, and I like many things that other people don’t. I try not to bring my weird hobbies into conversations (not that I think they are weird, but other people have told me they are). For some reason, this makes people think I’m an innocent person who does not know how to have fun. When I try to tell people about my hobbies and that I do have fun – just not what they would find fun – it just makes it worse. How can I convince people that I’m not someone who needs saving from herself and that I do enjoy all the geeky things I do? I feel like I have a stamp on my face telling people to help me, but I don’t need saving.  – Not Looking For Help

Dear Not Looking for Help,
You’re going to be frustrated for a good part of your life. Then, one day, you’re going to realize something: You can’t control other people. You’ll spend several years trying to figure this out. Some people spend their entire lifetime and don’t figure it out. It’s true. You can’t control what other people say or do. You can’t control what other people think or feel. You have no control over these people. You have no control over romantic partners, friends, family, parents and children (if you ever have them). I don’t have control over them, either. You can only control what you think, feel and do (even that can be hard). You can work to tilt things in your favor, but that’s a temporary fix. My secret is that I make people laugh. I learned to do it as a defense mechanism. If I can make people laugh, I know they’re not thinking horrible thoughts about me. When I was younger, I was extremely overweight and insecure. When I made people laugh, I knew what they were thinking – that is, until they stopped laughing. Then I would have to make them laugh again. This is how I became funny. I learned to do this because I wanted to try to control people. My humor deflected people from seeing that truth.  What is the truth that you’re hiding? Why do you find it so bothersome that people misunderstand you? Instead of feeling like a target, engage these people. Educate them. Bring them into your world. Give them permission to appreciate you or not appreciate you. Teach them about your hobbies. Help them to see all the things that make you interesting, intriguing and dynamic. Don’t do it so they can like you. Do it so you can get to know them. These people are not trying to help you – they just want to understand you. Also, find someone in your corner who will always understand you. This is why therapists are so awesome. They will help you understand yourself so you can understand other people. Once you can open up and love the things about yourself that make you uncomfortable, it will be easier to share these qualities with the world. The problem isn’t everyone else; it’s how you see yourself. I relate to you. I feel connected to you. I, too, felt misunderstood and underappreciated for most of my teens. I didn’t love it. Then, I learned to love myself. Now, it’s all changed.

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