Recently, I spoke to a university professor who teaches freshmen students. He mentioned that last year was an especially challenging year for him. His explanation had nothing to do with argumentative kids or even students who wanted to negotiate their grades after an exam. Instead, it was an increasing problem among adolescents today.
Case in point: Brandon was one of his most intelligent students. He grasped the subject quickly and seemed to get along with his classmates. His challenge was that he absolutely spiraled emotionally when faced with any adversarial situation — a bad grade, a little criticism or a difficult assignment like writing a long paper. My friend told me Brandon sought to drop his course when he did poorly on a project and broke up with his girlfriend in the same week.
The fact is, Brandon’s story is not an isolated case. Students today become overwhelmed quickly with life’s hurdles. More than nine in ten report they are absolutely “overwhelmed” with their lives. Mental health issues have become the norm for guidance counselors. One in ten consider suicide each year. According to Santa Clara University, about 75 percent of students who commit suicide is male. Females, however, generally have higher rates of suicide attempts.
So why are there so many “Brandons” on campuses today?
Dealing with Addictions
The fact of the matter is, students who are emotionally fragile often struggle with addictive behavior. Consider why. Addictions often begin as coping mechanisms. In fact, most of us would admit to a small addiction to help us get through our day: coffee, chocolate, television, Coke Zero, alcohol, cigarettes, etc. Sadly, we don’t treat our addictions very well in the 21st century.
As adults, when we see our young people suffer, we make allowances for them to have addictions. After all, look what they’re going through. How can we expect them to face it alone? So kids become addicted to everything from biting their fingernails, to playing video games, to taking prescription meds, to all other kinds of bad habits. We tell ourselves it will help them make it through the day.
While that may be true, it will not help them adjust to life.
As counter-intuitive as it may sound, stresses actually help us mature. The labor of enduring a pressurized situation is not unlike lifting weights in a gym. When I let myself have addictions, they allow me to escape the stresses that enable me to mature. It’s like removing the weight off of the barbell. My experience becomes much easier, but I don’t get stronger. Facing failure and struggling with hardship — when viewed correctly — can be the most beneficial experience to my own emotional growth. In fact, we must face reality. We must learn to fail, fall and fight in the midst of our fear. We must not turn off the stress in the maturing process.
The more I use artificial means to cope with life, the less my coping abilities develop. It’s no wonder there are so many “Brandons” in the world today. We created them when we resorted to synthetic methods to cope. We removed the pain from our kids today but may have invited greater pain into their future. Of course they’re emotionally fragile. Of course they want to quit. We made them this way.
When I was growing up, I never once questioned whether my parents or teachers loved me and believed in me. I do, however, remember them refusing to remove the pressures of life. When I desperately wanted a new toy, my dad told me how to save for it instead of buying it for me. When I left my car lights on and couldn’t start it after my work shift, I walked home… and never made that mistake again. When I failed to get an assignment done at school in the fourth grade, Mrs. Mayo stayed after school with me — but made me complete the assignment. They were both responsive and demanding.
There’s a Hebrew proverb written by King Solomon three thousand years ago:
Discipline your son while there is hope, and do not desire his demise. A young man of great anger will bear the penalty, for if you rescue him, you’ll only have to do it again. Listen to counsel, accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days…
No adult in my life (that I can remember) allowed me an artificial way to get by. None of them allowed for an addiction to help me cope with hard times. And I am all the better for it. Today, I believe our kids are incredible. We owe it to them to help them become incredible adults by NOT allowing for artificial ways to cope.
They are better than that. We are better than that.