Alarming Trend With College Boys
There is a deeply concerning experience that too many college students – particularly boys – are having now. It is perhaps best summed up by this line that one college sophomore shared with me a few weeks ago:
“I feel like I am sleepwalking through my college experience, especially my classes. I go to classes, I do what I need to do to get my grades, I hang out with friends, go to the gym and do lots of normal things, but rarely do I feel anything … it’s almost like I am numb… it’s like I am just going through the motions of life.”
I Replied “You sound like you are sleepwalking through life as a high functioning person with low grade depression” to which he replied “Exactly! I can introduce you to so many other people here who feel the same way.”
He is not alone. And at least he is going to his classes maintaining a respectable GPA, even though the demand of the coursework at his highly competitive university are simultaneously sucking out his soul.
Far too many others are not even passing their classes, if they are even going to them.
In the nearly 3 decades I have been in practice, in any given year roughly 40% of my clients are in college, split evenly between male and female.
Up until a few years ago, my typical work with them focused primarily on helping them navigate the social world and relationships of college, make big decisions and build their capacity to be high functioning amidst stress. The focus has been on preparing them ultimately for adult life.
That was then. This is now:
I am alarmed at the number of parents I hear from in the last 18 months after they learn their sons who did just fine – even exceptionally well – in high school, are now struggling personally in college, often failing college classes, getting on academic probation and even being dismissed from their colleges – often times at very high profile colleges.
What in the world is going on?
How can these kids who were so filled with light and excitement and who did well enough to get into so many competitive colleges, now suddenly find themselves struggling with mental health and in many cases, even failing in college?
After spending over 200 hours in the past year alone in dialogue with so many of them, here are the four factors I see that are leading to this:
#1 They are on the Wrong Life Path:
They are studying the wrong subjects, wrong major, wrong career path and not uncommon as well, often even are at the wrong college. This is far and away the most common thing I find when I speak with these college students.
Why? Often because their decision criteria for such significant life decisions was very narrow:
They chose a major based on how much income or status a career in it might lead to, regardless of whether or not they are interested in it, would enjoy it or even have the academic aptitude to study it or the innate skill to do it. They chose a college based on status or fun, regardless of whether it is truly a good fit for them and their needs. As I said to one struggling college student “You know: When you sign up for s#itty classes for s#itty reasons, you can expect to have a s#itty experience!” To which he paused, thought a moment and said “True that.”
#2: They are Burned Out. Many were worn down before they even started college…Burned out from all the stress and demands of years of AP Courses, exam preparation, essays, etc they endured just to even get into college… surely exacerbated by the pandemic. The pressure many feel to start competing for scarce internships that lead to job offers even before they begin college, only adds to the burn out.
#3: They are not yet mature enough to take on the demands of life as a college student –
Succeeding in college demands readiness to manage all sorts of challenges that too many 18-year-olds are not yet ready for. From the ability to manage basic flow of life like getting up on time on their own, to managing coursework without teachers holding their hands, to making healthy lifestyle choices… too many are not even remotely prepared to live away from home and function productively and successfully in college.
Ironically the ubiquitous use of things like Google Classroom where high school teachers update assignments making it unnecessary to actually pay attention to these details in class and the constant dependence on tutors who many families engage to help their kids get the grades, is having the counter effect of leaving them far less prepared to function effectively as a college student.
I also include in this category the frequent stories I hear about social anxiety and being too insecure to engage with confidence in the social world. While there are those for whom this anxiety really is clinical and a mental illness, contrary to pervasive psychological theory on this one, for most adolescents, I do not see it as a disorder needing treatment, rather it is a growing up and skill development and character development issue that is often resolved through serious coaching and mentoring. I have seen so many results approaching it this way.
#4: They are behaving like whiney childish irresponsible brats: They are perfectly capable of doing the work, they just don’t want to make the grown-up sacrifices they need to make to be successful. They’d rather socialize with friends, party it up, play video games, sleep in, skip classes and half-ass their way through schoolwork, then to do the hard, sometimes tedious work it takes to be successful students. When the work gets challenging, intellectually demanding or time-consuming, they just ignore it and act as if it is just going to magically all work out.
I have never seen a student who is paying for college themselves behave this way, so it seems appropriate to also include the word “entitled” to describe many students who are failing because of this reason.
Many who struggle with this last one, also struggle with a very cynical view of adult life and of the future. They see “grown-ups” as stressed-out people who have little fun and spontaneity, who’s best times in life are behind them. If they think that is what lies ahead, no wonder they prefer to stay stuck in childhood.
The solution to each of these is obvious, though not necessarily easy to resolve.
- On the Wrong Path? Course correct. Get on a path that leads to a life you will look forward to. This may require making big decisions or may be simple, but it certainly requires being far more sophisticated about your life decisions and likely a lot more bold.
- Burned Out? You likely need to make some serious decisions to prioritize getting your well being back in tact.
- Lacking Maturity? It’s time to start taking seriously all the growing-up skills many of their peers have internalized. Manage time, resist temptation, commit to the right priorities, develop effective study skills, build results-producing lifestyle habits, surround themselves with people who are going places with their lives… The journey is well known and well worn, they just need to get on it.
- Being Childish? As I said to one college student recently who asked me “What am I supposed to do about it?” Grow The F#cK! Up. Truly. A child thinks only about themselves and the here and now… Their top priority is what is Fun and what feels good. A grown up realizes that their life matters to the world and they change their priorities to ensure they make an impact and make things happen.
And for those who just have a cynical view of adulthood, they need to have this reshaped so that growing up becomes an adventure to be lived rather than a dreadful stressful bore to be avoided.
If I am describing your son or daughter, or someone you know in your life, I can help… and to be blunt, the work I will do with them will likely be life changing.
I rarely put anything out there directly marketing my services… I am plenty busy on word-of-mouth referrals and people resonating with what I write about that they reach out to me.
This is different. I am directly offering to help and to do this in a way that a lot of work is done with them this summer before they go back in the fall.
When the calls started coming in from kids I knew when they were kicking ass in high school and from parents of kids I never knew when their kids were younger…
I hear the anguish in their voices, the frustration and concern from the parents … the conversations with them like the college sophomore at one of the nation’s most elite universities telling me “I feel like I am sleepwalking through my college years… I can’t remember the last time I felt just truly happy…”
And I realized how many of them are out there, how much they are struggling… how many of them are winding up in therapists offices as a patient being treated as if there is something wrong with them… Maybe for some, there is something wrong with them.
But for most what they need is to learn and grow, quickly.
I know from past experience that the work and input I can offer will make a meaningful difference and for some, will change the course of their lives.
There are few cliches more overstated than “they are our future” but in this case, given the state of the world teetering on complete disarray, we need them to step up and step in… to be bringing their best of their intellect, their talents and what they can contribute… to become the citizens, partners, friends that they can be in a world that is too disconnected and filled with too many people who are too disconcerted, too self-obsessed and too short sighted.
Contact me to discuss how I can help the struggling college student in your life to regain their confidence, find their life direction and launch into the adult you know they can be.
I am not going to explain how this works here in this format… but I will go in depth for those who want to reach out.