Our Child Is a Struggling College Freshman

Should we be concerned that our daughter is experiencing difficulties during her first year away at college? Her first semester academic performance was very poor. She's never been an exceptional student, but she is very intelligent and has always achieved good grades. That's why we're so concerned. We haven't seen evidence of any other troubling behaviors, so we're not quite sure what to make of the situation. How should we approach this? Should we threaten to withdraw funding for college?

No, we definitely wouldn’t encourage you to go that route. Not without further investigation, at any rate. Alarmist “worst-case-scenario” thinking is never helpful. It’s especially counter-productive in a situation as complex, sensitive, and multi-layered as this. Instead of jumping to unwarranted conclusions, we recommend that you talk to your daughter. Ask her some simple, straightforward questions. Find out what’s been going on in her life over the past several months. It might be an eye-opening conversation.

It’s not uncommon for even the best of students to experience a drop-off in grades during their first year in college. At this stage in her educational career, a kid’s plate is full to overflowing. As you may remember, the world of the university is very different from that of the average high school. A freshman typically undergoes a certain amount of culture shock upon being thrown into this environment for the first time. She has to learn her way around a large, sprawling, and confusing campus. She has to get used to a strange and potentially erratic schedule. She has to figure out that, in college, one spends a great deal more time working outside of class than sitting in a lecture hall. In your daughter’s case, she has to adjust to a new living situation. This means taking responsibility for her own eating, sleeping, and study habits. It also involves processing a whole host of new friends and acquaintances. On top of everything else, she may suffer from homesickness. The ease with which she manages all this is directly related to her personality type, temperament, and level of maturity. Once she’s worked her way through these preliminary details, she has to find time and energy to devote to Physics, English, Geography, French, and Chemistry. It doesn’t sound simple, and it’s even more complicated than it sounds.

Should you cut off your daughter’s funding for college? We don’t think so. Your daughter is already struggling on many different fronts. Taking away her financial support would probably be counterproductive. Unless her problem with grades has been accompanied by other negative behaviors, we’d prefer to see you explore other avenues before taking such a drastic step.

Instead of wondering, “Is it time to clamp down?”, maybe you should be asking yourselves, “What does she need from us? What will ease the adjustment process? How can we help her through this difficult period of transition?” Perhaps some solid friendships would give your daughter the sense of security and stability she needs in order to concentrate on her studies. Maybe she can find new friends at a local church or an on-campus Christian fellowship group. It’s also possible that she’s longing for some reassurance from you. She may be desperate to know that her parents have confidence in her and are willing to stand by and support her during this transitional phase. Maybe she just needs a sympathetic ear. We have a feeling that specific answers will emerge out of your relationship with your daughter. So don’t jump to conclusions. Instead, take the time you need to talk things through.

If you think it might be helpful to discuss your questions at greater length with a member of our team, Focus on the Family has a staff of professional counselors available who would love to talk with you over the phone. If this option appeals to you, feel free to call our Counseling department. They’ll be happy to assist you in any way they can.


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