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Community Q&A: Planning for success when a young adult goes away to college starts long before they go!

by Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh, Executive Director


Right now, during worldwide shutdown for COVID19, the idea of starting college away from home or going away to work as a young adult, seems like a dream. College age kids are home with their families stopping the coronavirus from spreading.

But now may be the ideal time to start thinking about when things like college and leaving home in the months to come.

A mom I know who has successfully shepherded two daughters through their eating disorders and into recovery wrote to me with a question recently:

  • “Hi Laura! My youngest is now turning 18 and graduating in May, with plans to go to college in the fall. Would you please refer me to info on what to do before she turns 18?”

This mom was already on the ball. She had:

  • Requested medical records from providers
  • Plans to have her sign a medical power of attorney
  • Plans to have a contract in place between herself, her daughter, and her current therapist
  • Plans to identify a counselor at the school
  • Plans to arrange for regular weight checks
  • Has reminded her daughter that adulthood is a gradual process and that she is not independently supporting herself

Among her questions were:

  • whether you can request records from mental health counselors,
  • how to deal with her daughter’s insistence that once she is a legal adult she can make her own decisions,
  • how to deal with new peers, school officials, or future boyfriends who may not be supportive of the parent’s involvement

We are reaching out to you, our wise community of parents and advocates and treatment providers, for your answers to these questions and any advice you may have for this mother and for other parents at this stage. Please add your comments below, or email me with your thoughts and resources. We will compile this for a page on our website so your wisdom will be shared into the future: beyond covid19, and beyond these difficult times.

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  1. Daryl

    There are a number of good resources for parents to both assess whether their kids are ready to go off to college or uni, and to support them when they do go. Among the resources that I have personally found useful are a couple of blog posts by F.E.A.S.T. Advisors Dr. Sarah Ravin and Lauren Muhlheim:

    There are also sample college contracts which are useful; I’ll try to find links, or perhaps others have them handy. We spent the summer prior to our daughter leaving for university by helping her to practice eating in more social environments, and with people that she didn’t know well. We had a couple of phone consults with a dietician who specialized in eating disorders and college-age kids, who looked at the dining options for the cafeterias online with our kid. As well, she discussed not scheduling classes during meal times and always carrying snacks. And being prepared for a great deal of disordered eating all around, and trouble-shooting how to manage that. Lots of distress tolerance training…

  2. Lisa

    I did all of these things before my daughter went away to college last year and it was a lot of work, but made such a difference. I also would add you might want to have your student apply for accommodations through the school’s disability office. My daughter was able to qualify and it allowed her to have more flexibility with scheduling classes, more time for assignments if needed due to treatment etc. Another piece of advice is find the best outpatient providers in the area you can and/or use telehealth with current providers if a better choice, and also make sure they are still open to including you as part of the team (this is why the medical power of attorney is so important). My daughter knows if she wants to stay in school that medical POA and signed ROIs are non-negotiable. Lastly, I make sure my daughter knows her recovery comes first and that I will not hesitate to go to her or bring her home if needed.

  3. Katherine Wilson

    A year before my daughter was going off to college, I found the article “Is Your Young Adult with an Eating Disorder ready for College?”. She spent the year with her therapist, nutritionist, psychiatrist and parents going through the list and making sure she’d checked them all off. And she did. And college did not work. Every support you could imagine was in place, every detail thought out, and she was simply not ready for what college entailed. She slipped hard in college, had to medically withdraw and return home. She climbed out of the hole and found a new way to reach her goals, at home with online college. She learned a lot, we learned a lot and she’s in a really good place, strong enough to adjust to life during this pandemic. Eating disorder recovery is a lot, going off to college is a lot, and for my daughter, she wasn’t ready.

    • Sandra Pardo

      I read your comment on the FEAST website, as my daughter will turn 18 in September of this year and has applied to colleges. She is beginning to receive responses from colleges. She unfortunately has not spoke with her dad and I for three months so far. She had a relapse during last summer and we put her back into treatment in mid October, since then she has completely shut us out of her life. Her dad and I have tried to talk to her about the huge adjustment college will be and her attitude is “she will figure it out”. As a mother, I am terrified that she will fall hard. My husband believes perhaps she needs to hit rock bottom before she decides to get better. I have read from other parents to get a medical power of attorney, not sure she will even look at it. Her high counselor says to delay a year of her going away. I feel like our hands are tied. Ultimately when she turns 18, she will go her own path. She has been fighting her battle with anorexia since 7th grade. Our entire family is exhausted. We love our daughter so much, it pains me to see how entrenched she is in the ED this time around.

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