Doing Life Together

depressed studentsJenna is an example of a steady stream of students who parade through my office feeling as though they can’t cope with the demands of academia. They are bright, capable thinkers but emotionally distraught. And I ask, how did this happen? Were there too many trophies for participating, too few lessons in failure, too few attempts to try something difficult, more red marks needed on mediocre papers…what?

I’ve been involved in higher education for over 30 years and I see a difference in today’s students. I believe that schools have not done these students a favor when it comes to preparing them to handle stress and push through difficulty. With more students telling me that they feel anxious and stressed, we need to look at how they are treated and perhaps toughen up!

Hard work and competition are needed, they are not the enemy of good mental health. Both will be necessary to survive in the world of work post education. We do our children no favors by helping them avoid anxiety and reducing their stress. One must face anxiety in order to master it. You work through your fears, not avoid them. If you are rarely allowed to struggle with something that makes you anxious, you don’t learn how to face stressful situations. How many times was I terrified to do something out of my comfort zone in my education–most of the time! But no one coddled me. I had to work through the anxiety and face it.

Coping skills in real life are needed. Too often, students take to social media to air their grievances and anonymously make complaints. But when it comes to face-to-face conflict resolution or managing negative feelings, they are at a loss. Taking complaints to social media can end up getting people dismissed and overlooked for promotion in a real work setting. Most companies will tell you it is not good policy to post your work problems on a social media site.  Nothing takes the place of interpersonal skills needed to function with people. And we need to push students to make face-face-face contact more often.

Less coddling of their feelings is needed. I am tired of the constant “offenses” students bring to the attention of administers. Political correctness has gone wild. I disagree with the idea of schools being “safe” spaces for ideas and differences. The ability to debate and critical think are being lost among our students. Freedom to express ideas, thoughts and differences and then come to conclusions is what education is supposed to do. This process forms ideas, identity and more.

Less monitoring and more responsibility are needed. Our “helicopter” tendencies from both parents and schools have led to children not taking responsibility for monitoring and tracking their grades, progress and goals. The more we help, the less they do. Maybe it is time to back off some and let them struggle with decision-making and responsibility. Again, think of how you learned–not by someone doing for you. In our intention to be helpful, we may not be.

I realize that there are still great students and those doing well. But the trend I see concerns me. The numbers are higher for those kids unable to cope with real life demands than years past. Let’s see what we can do to create less anxious and more emotionally intelligent kids, not just academic achievers.


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