For 30 years I have taught in medical schools and universities. This generation is different. They are more anxious and suffer from higher rates of anxiety disorders. And what I am about to say is a generalization. Not all college kids are anxious and acting like victims. But for those who are, listen up. We have a number of stressed out kids, not coping well with life.
Since they were kids, this generation has seen an unprecedented protectiveness from parents. Gone are the days of roaming the neighborhood, entertaining yourself and dealing with boredom. Instead we have consistently given the message that the world is unsafe and we can protect you from harm. You must be entertained and lead with your emotions, especially when you are offended.
In our politically correct culture, all things potentially offend someone. Consider these statements that have been cited as offensive on college campuses:
America is the land of opportunity.
The most qualified person should get the job.
Really? Individual differences are handled by vilifying people and silencing critical thinking. Be like me or don’t speak. Offend me and I report you. Then add the power of social media to underscore authority and destroy reputations with no accountability. Basically, students have few conflict resolution skills or even the ability to tolerate distress. Part of the blame is on us as parents–we overprotected, took care of every problem and didn’t allow for competition or failure.
How does all of this relate to anxiety and college students? Those highly anxious stressed kids (and yes, I am making a generalization here) can’t tolerate differences, difficulty or divergent thinking. Emotional reasoning leads the way and determines what is offensive. Civil debate is gone.
We have given in to this constant complaining through more political correctness and speech restrictions instead of telling students to grow up, deal with the real world and learn to tolerate their feelings of frustration.
We have created campuses of homogeneity, where students don’t have to deal with divergent views. They aren’t forced to work through their negative and disquieting feelings –the treatment for anxiety.
To deal with anxiety, you have to be exposed to the triggers, tolerate them and move through the process. But on college campuses, we coddle and try to protect students from bad feelings. It’s the wrong approach.
One day, anxious and stressed students will face the real world of diversity and offense. Will they be prepared to handle it given the atmosphere of most university campuses?
We have to ask, are we really surprised that anxiety rates have risen?