Dr. Nerd Mom and the Struggling Student

I’ve become increasingly aware of an phenomena facing adolescents, teens, and young adults: mental illnesses among students. These problems, include anxiety and depression, can (and have) led to student isolation, loneliness, and even suicide.

There are a multitude of reasons why we as a community may be seeing these increasing numbers. Some presentations I’ve attended indicate that these mental health concerns are being better diagnosed among students, or that perhaps we are “coding” these issues differently than we used to- i.e. categorizing the difference between “feeling bummed out today” and “depression“, with the idea that many individuals have bad (bummin’) days but some folks struggle with feelings of depression that are endless and crushing.

Some evidence suggests the challenges high school college (even elementary and junior high) students face are greater than in the past (or maybe not?). As both a professor and parent, these RED FLAGS that we’re screwing up our kids and making them into screwed up adults was somewhat terrifying!

Therefore seeking help, I went to the internet. Here are some key phrases I found:

Helicopter Parenting

Helicopter Teaching

Student Resilience

College Mental Health Crisis

Wow. Tons and tons of information. Each one greater than 500,000 results. Many articles linking parenting behaviors with college student behaviors.

I’m no expert but as an educator this is what I’ve seen:

  1. Fear- professors/teacher etc scared to fail a student. Students terrified of failure- “my life is over if I don’t pass this class” behaviors.
  2. Students who are bored- they are tired of PowerPoint and would like something interactive where they can problem solve and learn in a variety of ways.
  3. Students are terrified of things OTHER than PowerPoint- they want, or even NEED, all the info required to memorize and regurgitate to be put on the slides.
  4. Students who do not know how to use resources
  5. Students who correct me when I miss direct someone to a resource.
  6. Students who provide their own resources and like to share them with their classmates.
  7. Students who feel isolated, unfriendly competition between students, comparing themselves and their grades to others.
  8. Students who help each other.
  9. Blame- its the professors fault, its the universities faulty, its my classmates fault.


So basically some good things and some difficult things. I am no expert, but I do have an avid interest in what it all means for my students and as a parent to my kids. So I will keep reading articles like this, and this, and this. I will try to teach my children how to be compassionate, confident, brave, and resilient.

I will work with my colleagues to help students who struggle with mental health concerns to get help.

I will strive to create a classroom environment for students to learn and practice their resiliency skills. (Even if it hurts my course evals? I need tenure someday!)


I will end tonight’s #shutupandwriteTuesday with this brief story from Young Jedi’s first day at school this fall:

All the kids and parents walked into the classroom. Kids carrying school supplies, parents carrying school supplies, kids wearing their backpacks. Teachers greated the kids with smiles, and gently told them to please find their desks and complete the assignment on the whiteboard:

  1. Put your backpacks and coats away in your “cubbies”
  2. Place one box of crayons in the pencil case
  3. Place one box of markers in the pencil case
  4. Place one eraser in the pencil case
  5. Place two pencils in the pencil case.
  6. Put the rest of your school supplies up here (arrow showing bins which were also labeled).

The scene unfolding was intense. Although the directions were CLEARLY written for the students, nearly all the parents were unpacking the school supplies for their kids. A Dad standing next to me simply turned to his six year old daughter and said “Wow! Its your first school assignment! Like a scavenger hunt! Lets read it out loud together and figure out what to do”. This Dad let his daughter read the sentences herself, unpack her supplies and put the away herself, and then kissed her goodbye saying “You’re going to do great today! Love you sweetie!”

Love you too Dad.

Dr. Nerd Momscreen-shot-2013-03-06-at-10-20-22-pm



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