With headlines like A dangerous wait: Colleges can’t meet soaring student needs for mental health care, parents can feel justified in wondering how best to help their stressed-out college kids. However, in the event that the parents find an online or in-person mental health therapist willing to become involved with their suffering child, things can backfire. The affected progeny might misinterpret the gesture as “controlling.” This can lead into a downward spiral of increasingly negative emotions on both sides of the original problem. What, then, is the ideal, let alone necessary, role of a parent when their college kids are in agony?
Humans have a longer childhood than animals. Animal parents only need to teach their offspring how to find food, shelter and to escape from enemies. Human parents must teach their children all the above and how to deal with social standards and customs, philosophical questions, spiritual needs and psychological stress. Top that off with the need to teach income-generating skills and behavior and you can understand why people have longer childhoods than animals: It takes a long time to learn many necessary lessons for facing life after leaving home. The lessons require practice, i.e, the time to ponder lessons, then failures leading to successes. In the event of life-threatening emergencies, however, progeny might not yet have the skills they need to overcome the threat(s) to their well-being. Parental love might mandate direct, immediate involvement even if everyone involved is clumsy at the efforts they’re making. But the delicate balances between privacy, dignity, urgency and pending disaster imply that each family needs to find a balance to suit their specific needs, if they can achieve balance, that is. The struggle holds no guarantees despite the heartaches involved. It’s no surprise, then, that clergy, close friends and confidantes might be consulted by uncertain parents eager to figure “the right thing to do.”
Effective tools and mindsets are in order when parents want to save a child from mental distress. They might rely on long-ago lessons about choices and consequences. That combination is the foundation of figuring out how to handle anything, let alone crises. The parents can figure out a rationale for behaving more assertively with a distraught son or daughter in order to save the child’s life or psyche. Knowing what might happen if they don’t act more forcefully can sway the parental decision-making aka familial balance of power as it relates to an unhappy offspring’s autonomy. The parents might even choose to explain that mindset to their miserable son or daughter, inviting them to “think it over” in order to appreciate the dynamics of the situation.
In a different scenario, mom and dad might decide to let the troubled adult child figure out to handle things on their own. “It’s their life, after, all,” is an occasional rationale. Sometimes, though, autonomy is counterproductive. Though the shouting and threats likely to arise from the interactions of struggling parents and despondent kids are likely to happen, many a survivor of emotional turmoil has eventually revealed in diaries, conversations or biographies that they eventually felt grateful for parental power trips that salvaged or improved their formerly vulnerable lives. Self-respect increased or developed for the first time. Perhaps a sense of purpose was finally understood and appreciated. On the other hand, many a biography and movie have addressed destructive parenting, but they tend to be about abusive parenting, not the life-saving focus addressed in this article. And sadly, some kids never grow up. They never develop gratitude for the psyche-salvaging efforts that parents made on their behalf.
It is unrealistic for an impersonal article such as this to indicate the right thing to do in each case. The struggle to figure out if parents should seek online or even in-person therapy for their college-aged children is specific to each family and the issues involved. We at e-counseling ask that anyone reading this article or considering the need to intervene in a child’s life, at any age, proceed with their sense of priorities well-considered.