by Angie Harvey
There’s not anyone who would dispute that today’s young adults have more opportunities than previous generations AND they also have more challenges. This fact can be verified by visiting any college campus student housing, student lounge, or mental health clinic. Young adults are arriving on campus with more power and more problems. Some want to immediately blame technology and social media for their problems. But let’s be clear on a few things: some challenges–dysfunction, drama, and troubles and problems are universal and multigenerational. Most people arrive at adulthood ill-equipped to function, behave, or manage as responsible and emotionally healthy adults. Thus, most college students are arriving on college campus with more freedom, less supervision, and huge responsibilities while having less abilities to problem solve, manage emotions, and ask for help.
I could share with you some findings findings with you from some well-known publications, but we all know that it’s not necessary to prove my theory. There are findings from well-known publications that can uphold (or verify) this theory. We only have to scroll through our newsfeed, watch the local news, read our President’s tweets, and tune in to CNN every now and again to know our youths are in trouble and need more help than what’s being offered or is available. Untreated mental illness, misunderstood personality disorders, hopelessness, low self-esteem, lack of life skills and little knowledge about how to provide self-care is the baggage that’s being unpacked each fall across the country on our college campuses. Sure, these challenges are also experienced by those that who don’t attend college, but since we have these students at attention the attention of these students I think it’s a great place to begin the intervention of life. A place to begin helping grown folks grow up.
I know, I know…that isn’t the role that a college or university is able or willing to take on. Personal development is separate from professional development that students only pay for, and Colleges are only willing to educate and empower for professional development. Personal growth and development, mental well-being and healthy emotional maintenance is the responsibility of the students and their parents. This is the position of most college administrators The position most college administrators take is that personal growth and development, mental well-being and healthy emotional maintenance are the responsibility of the students and their parents. but If we don’t make a conscious conscientious decision to incorporate some consistent and available education, empowerment, and encouragement on campus for the benefit of the students there will be consequences that will be felt by everyone.
Let’s be clear, that many of the students that eagerly arrive on campus have very little knowledge about what to expect or how they can and will manage day to day. They are still mentally and emotionally adolescents with limited abilities to discern, discuss, and dissolve some of the challenges that they arrive on campus with, let alone, those that will quickly begin to accumulate during their college experience. Unresolved childhood trauma, strained relationships with parents and siblings, inexperience with love and intimate relationships, inability to balance their classes AND their relationships, blurred definition of responsibility, high, low and unrealistic expectations about life and the college experience, limited knowledge about true and long term consequences and struggle (and it’s real), and to manage and maintain friendships are just a few of the things that get put away, hung up, or stuffed in a trunk by this generation of young adults and college students. Oh, let’s not forget the real and true impact of technology and social media that helps dissolves and diminishes their communication skills, erects their jealousy, heightens their inadequacy and lowers their self-confidence, all while struggling to keep up and align with others at least through pictures, posts and snap chats.
This generation of young adults are suffering in silence, drowning in isolation, practicing “to be” what looks good to others, and becoming actors and actresses with anyone who may notice anything that looks, sounds, or feels off. Students on campuses are under extreme pressure from their families to be successful, their friends to be “cool”, their professors to be accountable, and society to be productive. They have very little room to do anything but struggle to keep up. Colleges and Universities across the country are seeing an increase in depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges in their students and can no longer deny that there is a need to create ways for students to have access to knowledge and resources, increase self-awareness and produce positive change and resolve. The effort will need to involve parents/guardians, and should be mandatory programming for all freshman and new incoming students. It should provide creative, interactive and engaging support by mental health professionals, speakers, and trained mentors. These types of programs are popping up on some campuses but not nearly quick enough to meet the needs of the students. As it stands now, the average college student has to wait weeks, if not months, to see a professional counselor on campus. Also, the student doesn’t have access to or knowledge about any self-help groups and will probably find dangerous and often deadly ways to manage emotions long before anyone notices that something is the matter.
Turning eighteen, graduating from high school, moving from their parents’ house, or going to college doesn’t magically produce an emotionally balanced, law abiding, mentally stable, responsible adult. This takes intentional intervention by all of those that have a stake in the growth and success of any young adult; that is all of us.
We must discontinue creating generations of students who find themselves professionally qualified, in debt and life deficient. These students are then released to the unsuspecting professional world who will initially believe they’ve hired a well-rounded, educated, and emotionally intelligent individual only to find out that contrary to popular belief, we don’t have to be emotionally intelligent to pass a college class nor mentally stable to graduate from college.
As a professional public speaker hired to do staff development, leadership training and personal development, I go from campus to campus and I’m not ever blown away by the situations and circumstances of the students; but completely blown away by the lack of knowledge, resources, planning, and preparation by the institutions of higher learning that have committed to taking on the responsibility of educating, empowering, and encouraging their enrolled students. Surely the responsibility to educate doesn’t end with passing a class in the students major, but now must be extended to educating and empowering the students that arrive on campus with major baggage, the emotional kind.