Whether you’re a parent or a teenager, there may be a mixture of emotions as children go off to college. Excitement, hope, fear, and sadness are just a few of the many emotions parents and teens may experience. While many students enjoy their first year at college, some do not. Some students will go away to school and have a difficult time adjusting. Some will feel enormous pressure to succeed academically. Some will feel overwhelmed and return home. And some, unfortunately, may struggle to the extent they consider suicide (Fagan, 2017).
Some mental health professionals believe 18 is too young for a person to go away to college. In their Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen (2017) suggest that young people might be better off attending a local community college for a while. They point out the brain is not fully developed until age 25 for women and 29 for men. According to Dr. Meg Jay (2012), the growth of the brain in the twenties is the second-largest growth spurt the brain experiences—second only to the growth spurt the brain experiences as a toddler.
One of the major concerns for sending 18-year-olds away to college is that mental health issues are on the rise among young people. In fact, 75% of mental health issues begin before age 24. According to Amen and Amen, the environment of a four-year university can trigger a person’s underlying mental health condition for the following reasons:
Some research indicates the current generation is having an even harder time adjusting to being away at college than generations before them. While waiting until a teenager has completed some community college before sending them away to school may be a good option for some, for others a four-year university makes more sense personally and financially. No matter how you proceed, there are steps you can take as a parent to prepare your child for success in their freshman year and beyond. Below are some suggestions to help your teenager transition to college and limit potential mental health challenges:
While you have taken the time to prepare your child academically for college, consider it also a wise investment to prepare them emotionally for college.
- Educate them about the importance of sleep, diet, and exercise: Factors such as lack of sleep, poor diet, and lack of exercise can precipitate or exacerbate mental health issues. Finding natural ways to improve physical health can go a long way in contributing to better mental health.
- When you are with them during orientation, locate the counseling office and visit it: Stigma about mental health can prevent a student from reaching out for help. Encouraging your child to talk to someone if they experience a decline in their mental health plants the seed that getting help is accepted and even encouraged. Let them know it’s okay to struggle.
- Consider scheduling a mental health assessment with a licensed professional: Because most mental health issues begin surfacing in young adulthood, underlying tendencies can be present from a young age. If you suspect your child struggles with anxiety, depression, mood swings, or other issues, consider having them assessed by a licensed professional as a preventative measure. If your child is still a year away from college, consider taking them to visit a therapist now to learn practical skills for managing potential mental health issues. Counselors, psychologists, and therapists are trained in utilizing practical skills to help people deal with distressing thoughts and emotions, and many specialize in helping teens.
College can be a time of great risk and reward. While you have taken the time to prepare your child academically for college, consider it also a wise investment to prepare them emotionally for college. If you are concerned about the emotional health of your child, contact a licensed professional.
- Amen, D., & Amen, T. (2017, July 19). Big brain issues of sending kids to college at age 18. Retrieved from https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-brain-warriors-way-podcast/id1178337794?mt=2&i=390066914
- Amen, D., & Amen, T. (2017, July 18). Natural and safe ways to treat depression. Retrieved from https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-brain-warriors-way-podcast/id1178337794?mt=2&i=390024474
- Fagan, K. (2017, July 6). Honoring the life of Penn student-athlete Madison Holleran and ‘continuing to talk for Maddy.’ Retrieved from http://www.espn.com/espnw/voices/article/19859160/honoring-life-penn-student-athlete-madison-holleran-continuing-talk-maddy
- James, S.D. (2017, June 28). Mental health problems rising among college students. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/college-game-plan/mental-health-problems-rising-among-college-students-n777286
- Jay, M. (2012). The defining decade: Why your twenties matter—and how to make the most of them now. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing.
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