Recently, a group of adult friends and I were discussing differences among students today and those back in the 1960’s. Our parents, we agreed, were far more hands-off than those of today, as we recounted hilarious tales of parents permitting us to run away, play in the woods, and manage school without parental supervision. No bus or parent commuted us back and forth from school, we walked. Homework was managed on our own and the results of tests and quizzes were our problem. No one told us to participate in clubs and sports to impress college admission offices. We arrived at college not having been prepped, driven, organized and advised (very much), and we more or less figured paths out on our own, with the bulk of us managing to graduate and find careers successfully.
By contrast, today’s high school students are under real and constant pressure to produce the highest possible GPAs and SAT/ACT scores while maintaining a high profile of activities, sports, community service and arts participation and leadership in order to qualify for increasingly rare spaces at America’s top-ranked colleges.
No wonder, reports Alan Schwarz (“More College Freshmen Report Having Felt Depressed,” New York Times, February 5,2015) that almost 10% of college freshman surveyed (UCLA Higher Education Research Institute longitudinal study of college students) frequently felt depressed. This statistic is up from the 6.1% who reported feeling depressed five years ago.
Do the helicopter-parents of today develop fewer coping skills in college students? Does the intense pressure to produce the best college admission profile leave students emotionally exhausted and melancholic? Did the economic crisis produce an atmosphere of heightened anxiety, pushing students into career-oriented majors rather than permitting students to pursue their own passions? Are college students simply worried about the future?
While the study did not posit reasons for the reported increase in reported depression, parents should be aware of the trend. Allowing high school students to still be kids and to not live pre-programmed lives may be a step in the right direction. My own consulting experience suggests that students attaining admission at the very top colleges are virtually always the “real deal”: enjoying excellent grades while pursuing deeply felt interests and activities in high school— and not doing it all at the edge of nervous collapse.
Sarah C. Reese, Informed Educational Solutions