Monday, February 25, 2013

Vignette 1: What Would You Do?

Jane, a homesick student

Let's imagine you are a member of a college's faculty and a student presents in some distress. Consider the following scenario, and think about how you might respond.

Background: Jane is a first-year student from a rural area.  She is overwhelmed with living in a larger city, learning about everything on campus, making friends, and keeping up with her studies.  She is not yet fully depressed but has bouts of crying, anxiety and stress.                                             

Scene: Jane approaches her professor after class to ask for more information about an assignment.

Jane: Dr. Roberts, I know we are supposed to write this essay for next week but I’m not sure what to do.

Dr. Roberts: It’s in the syllabus, you just write a first-person account of your experiences last summer, paying attention to sentence structure like we discussed this morning.

Jane: I know, but…

Dr. Roberts: Just let your thoughts and memories come out on paper first, then polish them up like we talked about.

Jane: Yes, but (tears start to flow) summer was a great time, and…I don’t like thinking about it.

Dr. Roberts: Well, pick something that…ummm, is everything OK?

Jane: (More tears, voice raised) No!  I think about home all the time, it brings me down and I can’t stop worrying about it.  But I know I want to be here but I hate it too.  I have all this stuff to do but it gets all jumbled up in my head, then I don’t know where to go or anything so I end up just crying and doing nothing.  Then my Mom keeps asking me how I’m doing and I want to tell her but then I don’t because she keeps bugging me about it.  I miss her…sometimes I just want everything to stop…

Suggestions: Because safety always comes first, that last statement needs clarification.  One might ask "Please tell me what you mean by wanting everything to stop."  Assuming Jane is not referring to suicide (that is not the intention of this vignette), one might encourage Jane to elaborate on her feelings, perhaps asking questions to further identify the source of distress.  Jane is likely to say more about her problems adjusting to college life, something a great many students experience.  But its prevalence ought not dissuade us from offering further assistance, because a deeper depression could result from doing nothing.  Jane would benefit from a referral to the campus counseling service.  Information about making a good referral will appear in a future post, so please stand by. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Failure to Launch

With the help of a film of the same name, the phrase "failure to launch" has entered the common lexicon.  Not that it needed that help.  Many a college parent has experience with the issue, whether it be direct or the source of chronic fretting.  Once, on a flight home from our nation's capital, I even overheard a very prominent legislator opining over his student's launching issues.  It was difficult to avoid thinking that we are beyond hope, if such a well-connected student was having a problem with developmental stagnation.  But of course no one is beyond hope of successful transition into adulthood.

There are a great many factors involved in the matter, many more than can be addressed in a brief blog post.  But I have noticed a few recurring themes among students struggling with emergence into independence. In no particular order, these are:

  • Lack of information and/or inadequate education.  Some students have just not been exposed, for whatever reason, to the world of employment and career-making.  This group does not know where or how to begin.  A solution: Get thee to the career center, and learn what is known about career success.
  • Privilege and entitlement.  There are some students for whom the words "no", "limits", or "deference" are unfamiliar.  This group often demonstrates adaptation deficits in the areas of ambition, diligence, labor, and "paying one's dues".  They may also feel unchallenged and bored.  A solution: Get thee to the counseling center, and work on adjusting expectations.
  • Lack of resources.  Many students have the knowledge and the willpower but not the financial or other necessities for taking the next steps in advancement.  This one is harder to address of course, but not impossible with enough persistent creativity.  A solution: Get thee to financial aid and the labyrinthine network of scholarship and grant funding.
  • Aiming too low.  Students sometimes drift downward in their selection of friends, activities and goals.  It's tempting and easy to do the thing that's, well, easy.  A solution: Get thee to a mentor, and be mindful in your choice of heroes. 
  • Too much partying.  It bears repeating that this can dull the senses and result in loss of motivation for enjoying the normal vicissitudes of living, like the rhythms of sleeping and waking, resting and working, pleasure and discomfort.  A solution: Get thee to the counseling center, and stop numbing out on life.
As already mentioned, there are other contributions to this problem, but these are some big ones.  Parents have role in monitoring these dynamics long before their children arrive at college.  It is ideal for rich dialog to occur beginning in elementary school, if not earlier.  Chances are that even small children have opportunities to address the themes at various developmental milestones, such as first attending school, first exposures to some form of labor and service to others, first responsibilities to others or pets, first earning of income, and so on.  Too often we parents let these pass by assuming the lessons will be learned and achievements earned.  Those early adults who remain frozen in stagnation will tell you this assumption is very faulty indeed.