College of the overwhelmed

Today's college students unpack high expectations and anxiety when they move into their residence-hall rooms.

Wake Forest’s class of 2013 is a diverse group of over 1,200 individuals, but they’re all members of the millennial generation. Johnne Armentrout, assistant director of the University Counseling Center, explains what they’ve brought with them to campus other than what was in their suitcases.

Tell us about college students today.

Children today are not like their parents were at 18. Today’s students have high expectations of themselves, their professors, their classmates, and the opportunities they expect to be available to them. Although these expectations can be motivating, they can also be emotionally difficult. Generally speaking, students entering Wake Forest and other highly competitive schools experience more anxiety than their college-age parents did 20 or more years ago because the added expectations means added pressures and an increased possibility of failure — something this generation has little experience with.

But every student can’t be number one.

That’s true. Student maturation is a work in progress. Part of that process is helping students realize that they will make mistakes and recover. Most students of this generation have been given many opportunities for success while being protected from failure. Preserving self-esteem at all costs has inadvertently made kids feel anxious about disappointment. Many students entering highly competitive educational institutions lack the emotional coping skills to deal with the normal ups and downs of life.

What can parents do to help?

Allow young people the privilege of struggle, frustration and failure because they learn much from the process of figuring out how to get through the tough times. Resist the inclination to step in with the answers. Our children’s way of solving a problem may not be our method, but they will benefit from the process and gain confidence in their own abilities. When parents step in, the unintended message to their adult teens is, “you aren’t capable of handling this problem yourself.”

Advice for parents of freshmen:

  1. Let young adults use their own problem-solving skills.
  2. Allow students to make their own choices and, unless the decision will endanger their health or safety, keep quiet when they don’t make the same choice you would.
  3. A student’s choice of major can change frequently and rarely does a given career require one specific major. Allow your child the freedom to choose classes and enjoy academic exploration.
  4. Be a little less present. Avoid using cell phones, e-mail, text messaging and Facebook as ways to check up on your child. Students have enough to worry about without worrying about whether you’re worried about reaching them 24-hours-a-day.

Related Links

» University Counseling Center
» Learning Assistance Center

Categories: Student