In his ongoing series, “Your Child Has Been Accepted,” Scott Garbini focuses on student stressors and how to best identify them. We will focus on identifying some of the warning signs that your child may be feeling overly stressed, including the identification of some of the stressors,
The number one factor affecting students having difficulty and/or dropping out of college are issues surrounding their mental/emotional well-being. Students can become quickly overwhelmed – without realizing it – amidst the plethora of new experiences and expectations. Academic rigor has intensified to a degree they, most likely, have not anticipated. They will be involved in social situations that are unique and possibly challenging. These experiences can have impacts upon them that even they are not aware of. As a parent, you need to be sensitive to, and watchful for signs that your child is becoming overwhelmed. Because they are no longer at home, your job is to help them develop adult autonomy. You can no longer intercede on their behalf or do things for them. You must empower them to handle these things on their own.
Academic workloads and deadlines are now wholly their responsibility. As parent, you may have encouraged them to study, reminded them of a project that was due, or that they need to review and revise a paper. Now, this responsibility falls solely upon their shoulders. Many students have an, “Oh $#!%!” moment when they realize that they cannot retake a quiz they did poorly on, they cannot talk the professor into an extension on their project, or that they cannot get their paper back and actually make the corrections and additions they should have in the first place. They may be expected to use an online textbook with no direction from a professor on how to access it. They may be expected to research in a library, and know how to find appropriate reference sources versus relying solely on online search engines. Students should expect shorter deadlines on papers, and more in-depth quizzes and tests. What a student is expected to know, learn, and accomplish is exponentially more intense than ever before.
Social situations, as discussed in earlier blogs, can be ones in which they never even imagined. While they are most likely excited about this new social freedom, the uniqueness is something for for which they could not have anticipated or prepared.
It is completely normal for your child to feel a bit stressed in this new phase of their life. So, what are the warning signs that your child is experiencing excessive stress, and more importantly, what can you do to respond to help them to work through it in a productive and healthy ways?
Here is a list of warning signs –
- Speaking monosyllabically. Your previously chatty and upbeat child now answers questions about their classes or roommates with, “Yes”, “Fine”, or “OK” answers. They are short and/or evasive when you seek details about how their life is at school.
- Social isolation. When you inquire about what activities they are involved in, they reply that there are none they like, and they prefer just staying in their room alone.
- Changes in sports activities. If your child used to play on the soccer team, for example, but is skipping practice and telling you they hate the sport, you need to ask questions to find out what has changed.
- Not keeping up with their class workload and/or skipping classes. They may share this with you independently, you may have noticed as they have given you access to their academic portal, or you may have read it when receiving an early academic report. You may be blindsided and not even know this until a letter is sent home placing your child on academic probation at the end of the first term.
- Lack of sleep or excessive sleeping. When communicating with your child, they consistently talk about how tired they are, or how they cannot sleep. This is another thing to question.
- Negative or passive/aggressive social media posts. For example, “Life sucks!” or “I don’t even know why I bother studying, I’m never going to pass this class.”
- Excessive weight loss or gain. While it may just be the “freshman 15” you still need to be aware of whether the change is due to the new-ness of making their own dietary decisions, binge eating, or self starvation. If they have lost a lot of weight, is the loss of appetite due to stress or anxiety or simply because they don’t like what is being served in the cafeteria?
- Changes in their desire to come home. If they suddenly don’t want to come home for holidays and such, it may be as simple as the fact that they are working on becoming more independent, which to them means being less reliant upon coming home. If they suddenly want to come home every weekend, that should give you pause to wonder what it is they are trying to escape at school.
- Financial concerns. If your child is on scholarship or has many student loans, that may weigh upon their mind. If they know you are footing the bill, they may be feeling concerned about how you are making ends meet with this new, expensive obligation.
This list is not meant to alarm you, but just to give you some things about which to think. Ultimately, you know your child better than anyone. Having your child come home for Thanksgiving a bit heavier and wanting to sleep until 2:00 in the afternoon should not cause you to panic. It is when these characteristics are at an extreme level for your child.
So, let’s now say you are seeing some behaviors that concern you. What should you do now?
The first thing is to have a conversation with your child – and not with your thumbs. Most of your conversations may now be taking place via text messages. You need to have a verbal conversation, preferably in person. In this way, you can better assess if your concern is valid. Even if your child is 3,000 miles away, with the technology of Skype and Face Time, you can have that face to face discussion. They are an adult now. You need to talk to them as such. This conversation, although perhaps awkward for you as you adopt this new view of them as an adult, needs to be genuine and honest. It is only through that openness and honesty that you can truly get to the heart of the matter and help and support your young adult to work through their particular issue.
In his next installment, Scott discusses specifically how to talk to your child; this child who you believe knows nothing about real life, and yet thinks they know everything.