Welcome to our new section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus.) We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
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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