updated 1/2/2007 10:48:13 AM ET 2007-01-02T15:48:13

Janise Stone spent her first semester in college dreaming of home — literally.

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Stone, 18, would get up in the morning and grudgingly attend classes at Paine College in Augusta, Ga. But the minute she returned to her dormitory, she curled up and thought of family in Indianapolis as she slept the day away.

“I was so depressed,” Stone said while at home for holidays. “I just kept thinking that if I slept through it, I’d eventually get back home.”

She isn’t alone.

Almost everyone experiences occasional homesickness, but many young people suffer from a particularly intense form that interferes with normal activities, according to a new study by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The report in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics offers tips to physicians for recognizing risk factors among patients who are leaving home for the first time.

“Leaving home is a universal developmental milestone,” said Dr. Edward Walton, co-author of the report and an assistant professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at the University of Michigan. “Our goal is for them not to lose time and experience in the adjusting,” he said.

Walton co-wrote the study with Christopher Thurber, staff psychologist at Phillips Exeter Academy, a boarding school in New Hampshire.

About 95 percent of young people say they miss something about home the first time they are away, Thurber said. Most of them simply miss their Xbox or their mother’s cooking.

But a smaller percentage — about 1 in 14 — suffer from what Thurber calls “intense homesickness.”

“They’re not eating or sleeping right, not playing with others,” said Thurber. “Or they have an intense preoccupation with home, they’re not thinking about anything else.”

Practice time away from home
Those behaviors and attitudes can “seriously impair” experiences while away at camp, boarding school, college or the hospital, he said.

Stone’s first college experience could not be going worse. Not only is she having trouble sleeping at school, but the once straight-A student isn’t eating right and is failing many of her honors classes.

According to Thurber and Walton’s research, physicians could have predicted her reaction.

Stone had never spent a night away from home, not even at a relative’s house. Thurber said that’s the first red flag. Other warning signs include having low expectations for the new environment and little control over the situation.

The study outlines how to ease children into their first separation, including giving them practice time away from home; never offering to pick them up before the separation is scheduled to end; and involving them in every aspect of the decision.

Richard Gallagher, director of the Parenting Institute at New York University’s Child Study Center, said the study provides a “sound plan.”

“Parents and physicians want to have good guidelines for this sort of thing,” said Gallagher, who was not part of the research. “This could give them ideas about coping strategies.”

Stone said she wishes more resources were available to her before she left for college. As it is, she shuddered at the thought returning to school.

“Maybe if I would have been prepared I wouldn’t be where I am now,” she said. “Homesickness just builds and builds. It wells up inside you.”

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