May is “Mental Health Month.” In my opinion we should not just dedicate a month to mental health, but every single day! I understand the reasoning, but this topic is so important that it simply must have more focus.
There is significantly more pressure on adolescents these days compared to when I was growing up. The teenage years are a time of inner turmoil and change, a rollercoaster of hormones and emotions.
As a parent of two boys, ages 15 and 17, I see their stress daily. I have even added to their stress and inadvertently caused harm. Every parent wishes to see their child succeed. We push our children to reach new heights whether that be in sports, academics, the arts or a host of other activities. We forget they do not have the experience we do, and we expect them to think like us. We push so hard for excellence that we can actually cause harm, like taking the fun out of the activity while diminishing the innocence of their youth.
When I present at colleges, time and time again I hear from students that their parents have pushed them so hard to excel that they feel they are really “just living for them” and not themselves. Couple this with other stress factors like being away from family members and friends, lack of funds, and being out of their comfort zone. It’s understandable how their mental health can deteriorate, as well as how quickly.
As parents we have a responsibility to prepare our children for their future, not ours, or what we feel we should have done. This starts with raising our child’s confidence. If you find yourself saying, “You should” or “I told you so” more often than “How are things going?”, “I love you”, or “I’m always here for you” ….then take a step back and do some real soul searching.
As a nation, we are losing over 1,100 college students each year to suicide…a parent’s worst nightmare. Feelings of isolation and stress-coping abilities are major factors. I encourage parents to take an active role in their child’s college experience. Let them explore new ideas, build self-confidence and esteem while gaining friendships that will last a lifetime. Do this while being supportive in their endeavors, encouraging them to become part of their college community, all the while letting them know you are there for them. Let their college experience be a positive one, filled with knowledge of acquiring new skills, new experiences and new friendships.
My very best to you all,
Kevin R. Briggs
Author: Guardian of the Golden Gate, Protecting the Line Between Hope and Despair
Download Your Student at College: A Mental Health Checklist for Parents. The checklist has seven tips on how to empower your student to successfully navigate the unfamiliar waters of college life. Feel free to share the checklist with all the parents you know!
Your Student at College: A Mental Health Checklist for Parents was written by Stephanie Pinder-Amaker, PhD, director of the College Mental Health Program at McLean Hospital; instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School; and Active Minds National Advisor. The original illustrations are by Evey Cahall.