College students get a bad rap -- partying, Ugg-boot-wearing kids on the awkward brink of adulthood, often supported by the bank of Mom and Dad. (I'm generalizing.)
But a new survey indicates that college freshman have a record high level of stress and record low levels of emotional health. More than 200,000 first-year students at four-year colleges across the U.S. participated in the survey.
The survey and related articles attribute a lot of the stress to the bad economy. Increasing numbers of students have unemployed or financially struggling parents, and they know how hard it will be to have a career when they're done with school (especially if they have loans).
Also, serious academic pressure and stress begin years before college for lots of students, with college admissions getting tougher every year, it seems. Some students figure early in their teens that they need at least a master's degree to ever earn a living wage -- so 6 to 8+ years of expensive academic work lay ahead.
The survey also highlights a widening gap between young women's and men's emotional health, with women reporting more stress and mental health issues. (This could be flawed because of the "tough guy" culture and social stigma that discourages men from acknowledging and treating emotional issues...)
Taking a quick scan of readers' comments on the survey's findings offers even more food for thought. Here are a few other factors at play for college kids:
- Reliance on social media - Communicating through texts, Facebook, and online chatting rather than having quality face-to-face interaction with peers.
- Teen depression - More students are entering college with a diagnosis of depression that started in their teens or earlier (other recent studies and articles explored depression in preschoolers!).
- The hook-up culture - Many students come to college knowing about safe sex but not about meaningful sex. Women usually take an emotional hit for rampant hook-ups that are common in college.
- The drinking and drug culture - This isn't a new aspect of college. Still, frequent hangovers hardly lead to happy days and high GPAs.
- The mix of modern parenting styles - Some parents who went the attachment/helicopter parenting route -- hovering over their kids at every moment, helping them keep stellar grades and feel good every step of the way -- may find their college student struggling with independent college life. At the other extreme, Tiger Moms (buzzword of the moment in parenting circles!) may learn that their kids who were pushed really hard to succeed independently at a young age may get fed-up and rebel in college. Extreme coddling or pushing can backfire.
Whatever the cause of college students' emotional strife, one thing is for sure: Everything has gotten more complicated...