Whether or not your teenager has had trouble making friends in the past, many young adults find that college is a whole new ballgame when it comes to socializing. Your teen might be used to being a big fish in a little pond if he or she is in the “in crowd” or goes to a small high school, and they might not be expecting to have to go out of their way to meet people once they move into the dorms. Conversely, if your teen suffers with social anxiety or has had a hard time making friends, he or she might be worried that it will be the same situation once they arrive at their university. College is often a different type of atmosphere than most high schools, so your teen, in either situation, might be surprised. Here are five tips for meeting people and making friends that you can pass on to your high school senior as they prepare to make the plunge into their college freshman year.
1. Go to the Orientations
Your college student might think they’re lame, but going to the orientations for the college itself and the various activities that are offered serves two purposes: First and foremost, your teen is less likely to get lost and find him- or herself in the embarrassing situation of not knowing the fastest way back to the dorm or forgetting where the gym is. This alone can take stress of of your adolescent enough so they can relax and socialize with others.
The other is that they’ll meet other new people. The ones who go to these orientations are freshmen and transfer students, so they’re going to meet the people who also need to make friends. Usually these orientations are held by current students, so they’ll also be likely to meet with a few upperclassmen, which can be reassuring, particularly if they run into them again on campus and recognize those friendly faces. The students who volunteer to run the orientations are generally friendly and helpful. This is a win-win situation for someone who is new and a bit lonely.
2. Join a Club or Two
Just as you encouraged your teen to join clubs and activities in high school, they should branch out and do the same thing in college. This introduces them to a group of young people who have the same interests, which can be a boon when you’re new on campus and don’t know anyone. Some of the clubs at universities are time-intensive, so while it’s fine for your adult child to check out whatever he or she is interested in, it might be wise to limit the activities to one or two very active clubs. This will help with time management and will also help your teen to be able to focus on the names and faces of just one or two groups of people at first. Remind them that they can always add more clubs later.
3. Eat in the Dining Hall
If your child is introverted, he or she might feel more comfortable retiring to the dorm room with ramen noodles for dinner, but it’s really important for them to get comfy in the dining hall for at least some meals. You’re likely paying for them, anyway, so your teen should take advantage of that. Not only will they (maybe) be getting better nutrition than if they just nosh on chips and microwave mac-and-cheese, but they’ll also get the chance to literally break bread with others. It can be intimidating to join a group of people eating together, so encourage a reluctant diner to go to the hall with someone they already know or to sit with someone who is already sitting alone. In time, it will get easier, because they’ll meet people and will be one of the regulars at their table.
4. Make Friends With Your Roomies
When you drop off your newly minted adult at college, you might meet his or her roommate or roommates. Even if your child has nothing in common with these people, it’s important that they try to make friends. Life will be much easier if they have at least a cordial relationship with their roommates and the other people in their wing or on their floor. For the next year, at least, your teen will be seeing these roomies on a nearly daily basis, in many cases. They will be the ones hanging out in the common areas, and it’s likely that they’ll want to spend some time studying together and attending functions together. Encourage your teen to try to make friends.
Another person who can offer some support and tips on making friends is the RA or resident assistant. This is usually a fellow student who has been trained to be a peer leader or mentor of sorts. They will encourage the students on the floor to reach out and make friends, give tips on keeping up with their coursework, and will be someone who will enforce the rules of the dorms. Many freshmen look to their RAs as being similar to an older sibling. If your teen is not sure about how to jump in and make friends, the RA can be a good resource of information.
5. Brush Up on Your Small Talk Skills
Particularly if your teen has hung out with the same people for the past four years at high school (or maybe even the past 12 years, if they went to a small K-12 school), they might not be sure how to reach out to others. Give them some suggestions. For example, there are some neutral topics (the food, the weather, where they are from) that are fine for starting a conversation. Once talking, it’s good to listen more than you talk. Encourage your child to ask open-ended questions and listen to the answers rather than worry about what he or she will say next. Do some role-playing if they’re amenable to it (but they might not be).
Sending your nearly-adult off to college for the first time can be nerve-wracking. It can be difficult if you know that they’re having a hard time fitting in or making friends. If you can give them some tips to fall back on, chances are good that they will find their way. Of course, if you have concerns that your child has a social anxiety issue that could be hampering his or her success when it comes to making friends, encourage them to see counseling. For a typical college freshman, though, it’s common for them to have made some friends by the time winter break has rolled around, so stay patient and just wait for good news.