Sunday, April 29, 2018

How to Help Students to Survive the Age of Anxiety

My consulting, coaching, and teaching functions in four main arenas:
  1. Leadership Development (mostly management training and intern programs)
  2. Executive Coaching (CEO's, presidents and administrators of academic institutions)
  3. Executive Leaders of Churches and Non-Profits
  4. Education (mostly as an adjunct instructor)
While I have had experience in all these fields, it all started in 1983 (yikes!) working directly with students, and often that is still where I find my radar finely tuned. I continue to be acutely interested in trends, topics, and concerns related to "kids these days." I appreciate how they have kept me young at heart after all these years, although I can cite many examples that also nearly turned my hair white in fear and frustration!

Whenever a conversation with those who work with students today ask me about the "good ol' days," inevitably the questions turns to,
"What changes have you seen that have made the most impact?"
Sure, I could easily mention the obvious ones like the Internet. Computers. Cell phones. Media. And certainly, there have been some profound cultural changes around those cultural and technological phenomenons... for example, in hindsight I find it unimaginable that I ran a non-profit in the 80's and early 90's with 70 adult volunteers, a budget over $100K, and eight different clubs in four different cities without a cell phone. But we all did just fine. Go figure.

But I digress... My point is that I find one variable far more stunning than all of those paradigm shifters. The title of this post probably gives it away: I think STRESS is far and away the most significant change I have seen in 35 years of working with students.

While I have watched students go from landlines to smartphones, typewriters to tablets, and from VHS to making their own movies (with CGI effects!), I have also seen massive events and changes like:

  • Columbine (1999)
  • 9/11
  • The Great Recession of 2007-2009
  • Aurora (2012), Sandy Hook (2013) and now Parkland
  • multiple hours of homework every night, starting in elementary school
  • intense pressure from extracurricular activities
  • college entrance becoming intensely competitive and incredibly expensive
What I have seen this all add up to is a marked increase in anxiety-related issues: panic attacks, anxiety disorders, depression, addiction, suicidality, lots of medication, and so on. Colleges are finding themselves to be the "first responders" to these challenges, and are not resourced to manage it all adequately.

Before this cheerful post sends you running to the hills to jump off the grid and live off the land, read this article I just came across this week. They offer no "solution,' but I'll give away the most telling statement: "The most important step we can take on college campuses is to name the problem."

If your life and work are touched by this at all (and even if they aren't!), please get involved. As someone dedicated to developing transformational leaders, I ask all of us to: Pay attention. Ask questions. Find out what is available in terms of services and support. Listen closely and consistently. It will take all of us working together to even begin to make changes. Nothing will alter quickly of course (I've watched it shift incrementally for decades), but we must commit to long-term advocacy and care. Tell me your thoughts.

P.S. I'm not sure what to make of this news, which came out the same week as the previous article. Should we laugh or cry?

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