What Parents Need to Know About the Stress College Kids Are Under

This generation is more stressed than any other, but there's one thing you can do to manage it — and it has to do with changing your perspective and priorities.

Photo Credit: PM Images/Getty Images
Photo Credit: PM Images/Getty Images

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The sample of college students and graduates participating in a 2018 study in the Journal of Adolescent Research of high school cliques belonging to Gen Z and Millennials identified as being the most stressed generational cohorts compared to their parents and grandparents. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that that the “Brainiac” peer group experienced the highest levels of anxiety and worsening mental health. In the research we conducted for our forthcoming book on college mental health, The Stressed Years of Their Lives: Helping Your Kid Survive and Thrive During Their College Years, students feel increasing pressure to succeed in concert with the rising financial burdens placed on their families. As alternative paths to success have diminished over the last four decades, the college degree has become much more of a materialistic calculus: Pay here for the good life.

Parental anxiety stems from the perception that academic competition is too fierce and the path to success is too linear for youth to take a misstep. This world view manifests in anxiety and destructive perfectionism in today’s youth. If we recognize these beliefs as a reflection of a civic culture of fear brought on by rapid change, rather than based on intrinsic truths, then parents can value the social/emotional health of a child over an intensive (almost obsessive) focus on academics.  

The educational culture of high schools and colleges can also rebalance these trends, and promote a value system that assists both students and parents in reducing “surplus anxiety” and helping everyone learn how to cope better with the inevitable stressors of life.  Perhaps we need to tell our kids the truth about life: It’s curvy, not linear; and the good life is best achieved by maintaining a balance between social emotional intelligence and brain power. Otherwise, stress levels will continue rising, as will rates of burnout, anxiety and depression among youth.

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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