I’m often asked, “Why do you think there is such an increase in anxiety and depression among college students?” The answer is not a simple one, but there is one contributing factor that I believe has to do with our parenting. Culture has taught us to continually build up our children’s self-esteem, and tell them how wonderful they are. We are encouraged to protect them at all costs, and step in to prevent them from experiencing failure. We hover, but all in the name of love and protection. Then, we send them off to college with hopes that they will succeed.
Some parents continue to hover; they choose their child’s classes for them and arrange their schedule. They call or email professors on their child’s behalf. While I know they mean well, they are actually preventing their child from developing “muscles” they will need as they enter adulthood. These students often feel anxiety when faced with decisions because all of their choices have always been made for them. They lack confidence and struggle with insecurity because they’ve never developed the skills to help them live on their own.
Other parents say, “Now that you are 18, you are on your own. Good luck.” They drop all support, and expect the child to learn to fend for themselves. They are unavailable to their children and pull back emotionally, expecting the child to begin adulting. Like the child in the previous scenario, they too, have not been given opportunities to start building adulting skills. They feel pressure, stress, and anxiety; many become depressed because they are overwhelmed and believe they will surely fail. If they do fail, they internalize this, believing that they must be a failure, having never learned from failure in the past to make them stronger, better individuals.
The best parenting allows for our children to gradually learn to take on more responsibilities and to do more on their own. Instead of a sudden, “You’re on your own,” parents gradually release the reigns and give the adolescent or emerging adult more freedom. This is scary for parents, because it may lead to poor choices or failure. However, isn’t it better for our kids to struggle when we are still around to help them recover. These students often go to college feeling more confident. While these parents may not rescue their children from the consequences of their actions, they will continue to love and emotionally support their child in the tough times. This allows the student room to grow.
Parenting a college-aged child is one of the most wonderfully terrifying experiences of parenting. You hope you have taught them well, and that they will cling to their values while giving them freedom to live and make their own mistakes. As a parent of a college student, I pray constantly asking God to bring conviction where needed, to remain close to my daughter during my absence, and to teach her to grow in godliness. She will grow, and she will fall. I have to learn to trust God to show me when to step in and when to stay back. I don’t want to be a helicopter mom, nor do I want to be hands-off. I pray that God will help me to parent in a way that gives him glory and helps my daughter to grow into a godly adult.