For parents of today’s college students, child-rearing focused on nurturing their children’s self-worth and removing obstacles that might lead to disappointment or failure. While that may have worked fine before college, Johnne Armentrout, assistant director of the University Counseling Center, says young adults need to learn to steer through turbulent waters on their own.
Tell us about college students today.
Students today 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 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 the best.
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 inadvertently makes kids feel anxious about disappointment, and some college students lack the emotional coping skills to deal with the normal ups and downs of life.
What can parents do to help?
Parents need to keep their children’s struggles in perspective. A parent who over reacts to a situation increases anxiety and stress for their child. 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.”
What signs could signal it’s time to get involved?
College students typically have mood swings, but if your child seems depressed every time you talk, it may be time to check in. Call the counseling center if you feel there is genuine cause for concern. Often, what seems to be an unusual development may be very common among college students.