Adulthood 101: Remedial resilience

East Carolina University will offer “adulting” class to help students cope with the transition “from home life to college life and into their adulthood,”

It’s hoped Remedial Adulthood—  the university prefers “resilience education” — will relieve the stress on college counselors, writes Robby Soave for the Daily Beast.

urlAcross the country, more college students are seeking help for anxiety and depression.

Reason columnist Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-Range Kids, blames “helicopter parents and safety-obsessed K-12 administrators” for failing to teach kids to solve their own problems, writes Soave.

“Today’s children grow up with their elders ever present to organize the game, settle the scores and slice the snacks,” as Skenazy puts it.

“Emotionally coddled, easily offended, mentally traumatized students” are skewing the campus climate, writes Soave.

They are the ones calling for what psychologist Jonathan Haidt describes as “vindictive protectiveness,” or institutional policies designed to protect students from psychological harm.

These policies are well-known to readers: trigger warnings that require professors to consider whether they are teaching objectionable material; safe spaces that appear on campus whenever a visiting speaker expresses a controversial idea; speech codes that thwart students’ efforts to exercise their First Amendment rights; and “Bias Response Teams” that investigate members of campus for saying the wrong things, even inadvertently.

At the expense of free expression, these policies promise to protect students from discomfort — and from growing up.

Stresssssss

. During the lunch period, Skylar Relova, 15, left, and Bailey Smith, 14, both San Ramon Valley High students from Danville, visit with Max, a Shih Tzu mix therapy dog, in the school quad in Danville, Calif., on Monday, March 14, 2015. San Ramon Valley High\'s PTSA is hosting a \"Low Stress Week\" March 14-18 with therapy dogs and a hot breakfast served to students. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group)
Skylar Relova, 15, left, and Bailey Smith, 14, meet Max, a therapy dog, in the San Ramon Valley High quad during the lunch period. Photo: Susan Tripp Pollard, Bay Area News Group

Student stress is worrying educators at top-performing Silicon Valley schools, reports Sharon Noguchi in the San Jose Mercury News. “They’re pushing back school start times, re-examining homework loads, coordinating tests and warning parents about buying into college myths.”

Two suicide clusters in Palo Alto have raised fears. Around the Bay Area, there are more reports of panic attacks and eating disorders, students cutting themselves, suicide attempts and other mental-health issues.

In a recent two-week period at Irvington High in Fremont, mental health authorities or parents were summoned because nine students were suffering so much distress they needed to be involuntarily confined for protection, assistant principal Jay Jackson said.

A (St. Louis University) survey last spring found 54 percent of Irvington students suffering from depression and 80 percent showing moderate to severe anxiety levels.

Students think their life is over if they don’t get into a “great college,” say counselors.

“The better you are, the better the college you get into, and the better your life will be,” said Ella Milliken, a sophomore at Los Altos High.

Palo Alto schools have “added counselors and trained staff to spot troubled students,” reports Noguchi.

Dr. Grace Liu, a psychiatry resident, plays the part of an embarrassed teen with Dr. Rona Hu, psychiatry, playing the role of Liu's mother, during a skit at Jane Lathrop Middle School in Palo Alto. Photo: Jim Gensheimer, Bay Area News Group

Psychiatrists Grace Liu and Rona Hu play a teen and her mother in a skit at a parenting forum at a Palo Alto middle school. Photo: Jim Gensheimer, Bay Area News Group

San Ramon Valley High “staged a low-stress week” with hot breakfasts of quiche and oatmeal, supplied by parent volunteers, and therapy dogs at lunchtime. “Relaxing music wafted over the quad, where students did yoga” and “email was banned for a day.”

Four of the last nine Palo Alto teens to kill themselves were Asian and Asian youths have killed themselves in San Jose, Fremont and Contra Costa County in recent years. Palo Alto school and community leaders have started conversations on “parenting, expectations and a traditionally taboo topic — mental illness,” with Asian parents, Noguchi writes.

However, plans to ease pressure are controversial. Saratoga High considered limiting AP classes, but students and parents rejected the idea.

. . . a proposal to push back Saratoga High’s start time by nearly an hour, to 8:40 a.m., ran into furious opposition, especially from Asian parents. The idea was to coordinate times with the district’s other school, Los Gatos High, and to give students a chance to get more sleep — a benefit that some researchers tout as the single most effective tool to improve student health.

The plan, the product of monthslong research by a 28-member committee, was enthusiastically backed by many teachers and counselors, alarmed at rising stress disorders they see among students.

But the proposals were never publicly debated. And the committee itself, while intended to be broad-based, lacked Asian-American parents — even though Saratoga High is about three-fifths Asian. Criticism spread by social media saw the plan as an attack on academic rigor, in part by shaving five minutes from each class period.

Test scores are higher at Saratoga than Los Gatos, said parent Becky Wu. “Why ask Saratoga to match Los Gatos’ and not the other way around?”

Saratoga will compromise on a 8:15 a.m. start time.

The all-powerful U.S. News rankings reward colleges for selectivity, writes Alia Wong in The Atlantic. Mid-level colleges recruit students — including those they have no intention of admitting — to push up their rejection stats.

Fragile students, nervous professors

Declining student resilience is a serious and growing problem on campus, writes Peter Gray, a research professor at Boston College, in Psychology Today.

Last year, he was invited to meetings at a major university to discuss the problem. Emergency calls to Counseling had more than doubled in five years, he learned. “Students are increasingly seeking help for, and apparently having emotional crises over, problems of everyday life.”

Professors are afraid of sobbing students in their office if they give C’s, and sometimes B’s. Many students see a poor grade as a world-ending failure, they reported.

They “see a poor grade as reason to complain — the professor didn’t explain clearly enough or give sufficiently explicit instructions — rather than as reason to study more, or more effectively,” faculty members said.

Much of the discussions had to do with the amount of handholding faculty should do versus the degree to which the response should be something like, “Buck up, this is college.”

Colleges across the country are reporting “a decrease in the ability of many young people to manage the everyday bumps in the road of life,” write the university’s head of Counseling in a recent email. He summarized:

Less resilient and needy students have shaped the landscape for faculty in that they are expected to do more handholding, lower their academic standards, and not challenge students too much.

. . . Students are afraid to fail; they do not take risks; they need to be certain about things.

College mental health centers are overwhelmed by anxious, depressed students, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education in An Epidemic of Anguish.

“We have raised a generation of young people who have not been given the opportunity to learn how to solve their own problems,” writes Gray. “They have not been given the opportunity to get into trouble and find their own way out, to experience failure and realize they can survive it, to be called bad names by others and learn how to respond without adult intervention.”

Overcontrolling, overprotective parents raise emotionally fragile children, writes Diane Dreher.

From HUMAN, here’s the story of two survivors.

A college dream lost

An “academic superstar” at his Washington D.C. high school, Christopher Feaster struggled in college, lost heart and dropped out, writes WAMU’s Kavitha Cardoza.

Christopher Feaster sits at home with his high school awards.

Christopher Feaster sits at home with his high school awards.

Three years ago, as a senior at a small, supportive school called Hospitality High, he “seemed in a lot of ways like the poster child for grit and determination,” she recalls.

“During much of high school, he and his mother were homeless and living in a shelter,” yet he earned high grades, “won every academic award imaginable and received a full-ride, four-year scholarship” to Michigan State’s hospitality business program.

At Michigan State, Feaster was shocked to receive C’s instead of the A’s or B’s he expected. He stopped turning in homework and spent most of his time in his room.

His high school principals, Michael Cucciardo and Tiffany Godbout-Williams, flew out to Michigan — spending their own money — to talk to him.

Christopher told them about his poor grades, how much he worried about his mother, and his fears of not belonging.

. . . They stayed for two days, met Christopher’s professors, sat in on his classes and set up a plan for him — all the structures they had used to help him be successful in high school.

. . . But Christopher slid even further into depression and stopped answering texts or phone calls. He felt he had disappointed everyone.

He failed all his final exams and was told not to return.

Feaster now works at a restaurant as a host and lives with his mother in subsidized housing.

Was it too much support in high school, inflated grades or depression? (Feaster’s mother, who dropped out of college after one year, when she became pregnant with him, suffers from depression.)

Only one out of every four low-income students that attend college will earn a degree, according to the Pell Institute for Opportunity in Higher Education.

To raise an adult, stop hovering

Helicopter parents are raising fragile children, writes Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former Stanford dean. Colleges are seeing a wave of depressed, apathetic students who can’t make their own decisions. In How To Raise an Adult, she tells parents that good parenting means preparing children to take responsibility for their own lives, learn from their mistakes and . . . grow up. 
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In a 2013 survey, 95 percent of college counseling center directors said the number of students with significant psychological problems is a growing concern on their campus, writes Lythcott-Haims. One fourth of students who visit counseling centers were taking psychotropic drugs.

It’s not just a problem for high achievers at elite colleges, she adds. In a survey of nearly 100,000 students at 153 colleges, 84.3 percent said they’d felt overwhelmed in the last year, 60.5 percent felt very sad and 51 percent felt overwhelming anxiety. Eight percent had considered suicide.

When seemingly perfectly healthy but overparented kids get to college and have trouble coping with the various new situations they might encounter—a roommate who has a different sense of “clean,” a professor who wants a revision to the paper but won’t say specifically what is “wrong,” a friend who isn’t being so friendly anymore, a choice between doing a summer seminar or service project but not both—they can have real difficulty knowing how to handle the disagreement, the uncertainty, the hurt feelings, or the decision-making process.

Overinvolved parents deliver a “soul-crushing” message to their children, writes Lythcott-Haims.  “Kid, you can’t actually do any of this without me.”

With her husband, she’s raising teen-age sons in Palo Alto, which may be the epicenter of involved and over-involved parenting. It’s where I raised my daughter, who grew up to be a literary agent for the book.

Study: ‘It gets better’ prevents depression

Telling ninth graders that people can change can lower the risk of depression, according to a University of Texas study published in Clinical Psychological Science. 

Lifelong struggles with depression often start with puberty, says David Yeager, assistant professor of psychology and lead author of the study.

The study asked one group of incoming ninth graders to read a passage describing how individuals’ personalities are subject to change.

The passage emphasized that being bullied is not the result of a fixed, personal deficiency, nor are bullies essentially “bad” people. An article about brain plasticity and endorsements from older students accompanied the passage. After reading the materials, the students were asked to write their own narrative about how personalities can change, to be shared with future ninth-graders.

Students in the control group read a passage that focused on the malleability of a trait not related to personality: athletic ability.

Nine months later, “rates of clinically significant depressive symptoms rose by roughly 39 percent among students in the control group, in line with previous research on depression in adolescence.” However, students who were told personality is malleable showed no increase in depressive symptoms, even if they’d been bullied.

That jibes with research on the academic benefits of having a “growth mindset,” the belief that ability is malleable. And with the “it gets better” campaign aimed at gay teens facing abuse.

No time to play

Today’s children don’t have time to play independently — and to develop social skills — writes psychologist Peter Gray on Aeon. The adults are always in charge.

Growing up in the 1950s, Gray had a “hunter-gatherer education” in addition to formal schooling. The neighborhood kids played after school, often till dark, in mixed-age groups. They played on the weekends and in the summer.

We had time to explore in all sorts of ways, and also time to become bored and figure out how to overcome boredom, time to get into trouble and find our way out of it, time to daydream, time to immerse ourselves in hobbies, and time to read comics and whatever else we wanted to read rather than the books assigned to us.

Since then, adult-directed sports for children have replaced “pickup” games, Gray writes. free-to-learn Adult-directed extracurriculars have replaced hobbies. Parents are afraid to let kids play without supervision.

As children’s free play has declined, children have shown more signs of anxiety and depression, he writes on psychological surveys. Since the ’50s, “the suicide rate for young people aged 15 to 24 has more than doubled, and that for children under age 15 has quadrupled.”

In addition, surveys show “a decline in empathy and a rise in narcissism.”

Children aren’t learning social skills through play, writes Gray. At school, an authoritarian setting, they learn to compete rather than cooperate. Extending the school day will widen the “play deficit” even more, argues Gray.

A Boston College professor, Gray writes the Freedom to Learn blog, and is the author of a new book, Free to Learn.

Kids who want to work — mowing lawns — face “safety” barriers, writes Mollie Hemingway. On the neighborhood listserv, someone asked for feedback on “a group of adorable and entrepreneurial kids (young, maybe 9-11 years old)” looking for mowing jobs. “We didn’t see a parent with them supervising.”

A link was provided to Mowing the Lawn Can Be a Dangerous Chore, which recommended “polycarbonate protective eyewear” for anyone mowing — or in the vicinity.

From high school A’s to college F’s

Kashawn Campbell, a straight A student at an inner-city Los Angeles high school, went to Berkeley with a great attitude, a great work ethic, lots of “grit” — and weak reading and writing skills, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Raised by a single mother who works as a security guard, Campbell grew up with little exposure to the world outside his neighborhood other than watching Jeopardy. Although Berkeley felt like a “different world,” he embraced it enthusiastically.

He filled his dorm room with Cal posters, and wore clothes emblazoned with the school’s name. Each morning the gawky, bone-thin teen energetically reminded his dorm mates to “have a Caltastic day!”

But he was shocked by the academic expectations.

At Jefferson, a long essay took a page and perfect grades came after an hour of study a night.

At Cal, he was among the hardest workers in the dorm, but he could barely keep afloat.

Seeking help, he went at least once a week to the office of his writing instructor, Verda Delp.

The more she saw him, the more she worried. His writing often didn’t make sense. He struggled to comprehend the readings for her class and think critically about the text.

“It took awhile for him to understand there was a problem,” Delp said. “He could not believe that he needed more skills. He would revise his papers and each time he would turn his work back in having complicated it. The paper would be full of words he thought were academic, writing the way he thought a college student should write, using big words he didn’t have command of.”

Campbell chose to live with other black first-year students in the African-American Theme Program, two floors in a dorm. He became close friends with roommate Spencer Simpson, who was earning A’s in challenging classes at Berkeley.

Like Campbell, Simpson had been raised by a single mother in a tough neighborhood and earned straight A’s at low-performing schools. Both were nerds who “didn’t try to act tough” and were “shy around girls.” But there were differences.

Spencer’s mother, a medical administrator, had graduated from UCLA and exposed her only child to art, politics, literature and the world beyond Inglewood. If a bookstore was going out of business, she’d drive Spencer to the closeout sale and they would buy discounted novels. She pushed him to participate in a mostly white Boy Scout troop in Westchester.

To Spencer, Berkeley was the first place he could feel fully comfortable being intellectual and black, the first place he could openly admit he liked folk music and punk rock.

Campbell coped with depression, kept working, joined study groups and — with an A in African American Studies — raised his GPA above 2.0. But he got an incomplete in the writing class on his second try. He’ll be back for a second year.

CDC: 1 in 5 kids has a mental disorder

Nearly 1 in 5 children in the U.S. suffers from a mental disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That includes attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression and autism.

Kids who once would have been called antsy, shy, moody or odd are now being diagnosed with mental disorders and disabilities. How many really need mental health care? The bill is up to $247 billion a year, the CDC estimates.

Pushing drugs in school

Diagnosed as hyperactive in first grade, Ted Gup’s son was prescribed Ritalin and Adderall, Gup writes in the New York Times.

In another age, David might have been called “rambunctious.” His battery was a little too large for his body. And so he would leap over the couch, spring to reach the ceiling and show an exuberance for life that came in brilliant microbursts.

When he was older, he sold his Adderall to classmates, who saw it as a performance-enhancing drug.

As a 21-year-old college senior, he was found on the floor of his room, dead from a fatal mix of alcohol and drugs.

“I had unknowingly colluded with a system that devalues talking therapy and rushes to medicate, inadvertently sending a message that self-medication, too, is perfectly acceptable,” writes the grieving father.

Now psychiatrists have defined grief as depression, which “runs the very real risk of delegitimizing that which is most human — the bonds of our love and attachment to one another.”  Gup does not plan to take a pill to dull his grief for his son.