Student mental illness (Part 2)

Statistic of the week:  75%  of diagnosable mental illnesses crop up by the age of 24, driven by fear of failure and the eternal chatter about how essential it is to get a job straight out of college.

American psychologists are increasingly seeing children with ADD  and some kind of executive functioning problem among college students who haven’t learned to manage their time or structure their days, because their parents have always organized everything for them.  

American parents are often so focused on their children’s cognitive development – in part , because that’s what colleges reward – that they neglect to encourage self-management.  They are let off chores, even making beds or learning how to operate a washing machine. They need responsibility- building tasks so that they can be self-reliant.  If they are mothered to death, when they get to college they cannot cope.

There has been a cultural shift, starting with the Columbine massacre, the twin towers and the 2007 financial crash, from parental encouragement of autonomy in childhood to parental control. Parents are now super-anxious, and this communicates itself to children.  They, the parents think every little mistake is something to be fixed, rather than a learning experience which helps the child grow into an adult.  If the parents catch every fall then the child ends up afraid to fall.

There is the huge pressure to get A grades (of course, once in college everyone gets A grades! – equally ridiculous( Ed.). The message is that the child will not have a good, productive life unless they go to the best colleges for four years and do stellar work.  But there is no single perfect way of preparing for life, and the sub-text is the importance of earning power.  

Then there is the pressure kids feel as they try to make new friends at college in an atmosphere where social media is pervasive and virtual friends are not the same as real, flesh and blood friends.  It has also become more difficult to make these real friends because kids are sitting, isolated, with earphones on, staring at a computer. (These comments were extracted from a Bryn Mawr College newsletter).

Parents need to understand that their job is to prepare their children for the world of personal responsibility, starting with doing chores around the house and submitting to discipline (starting with time limits on-line).  Secondly, going to college at 17 or 18 might be satisfactory for girls ( who grow up quicker than boys), but at that age the boys, in particular, are generally still children, and need help taking responsibility for their lives and their actions.  They will get more out of college by having a gap year before college, when they either travel (yes, to Thailand possibly) or get jobs for a year where they learn some self- discipline and experience adulthood.

I believe that this whole thing is enabled by the corporations , whose interest is in hustling kids through puberty and college so that they can bolster the ( cheap) workforce.  We should be resisting.  We are, all of us, only young once.


One Comment

  1. A big part of the problem is that success at university has become more important to having a good career. In the latter half of the 20th century, if you were smart and worked hard, you could get a decent paying job without a college education, certainly without having gone to the best schools.

    Now, simply being smart and able isn’t good enough. Employers will look at where you went to university, your GPA or score, and may even look much more favourably on those with masters’ degrees. So students are under much more pressure to get into the best universities, and once they’ve made it, they are under pressure to do well.

    A more Epicurean solution would be to weaken the link between educational attainment and career success. Rather than looking at academic achievements, more employers should conduct CV-blind tests, assessing aptitude, numerical and verbal reasoning skills.

    This would have two benefits. It would make the education experience less pressured and career-focused, and more about the innate joys of learning. It would also improve social mobility, by opening up elite careers to disadvantaged minority groups who experience structural barriers to high educational attainment.

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