Supporting students when they are distressed

College students often seek support from their parents regarding the stressors of college life.  They seek support via various communication methods (phone, text, email) and regarding various issues (academic, financial, relational). Sometimes they are distressed when they contact you.  These distressed contacts often occur via phone conversations during which you learn in depth and/or breadth about the challenges they are facing. At this time of year you may hear some of the following challenges that may be distressing them: study abroad opportunities, student employment and summer internship application processes, housing selection (and related roommate concerns) for next year, midterm exams, midterm projects and various other psychosocial stressors. 

Communicating with parents is one of the significant strategies students have for coping with distress.  When you receive distressed and distressing communications (texts, calls, and emails), keep in mind that important parts of your conversation will be: to be supportive, to listen, to express confidence in their ability to cope, and (perhaps) to help them make plans for resolving the distress.  Additionally, remembering to be sensitive, caring and nonjudgmental will help to dissipate their distress. 

Another part of this is that it can be emotionally challenging for you to hear about their struggles. Our message to you is to keep in mind that students typically experience some relief simply from the support you offer them by listening, and the level of distress they shared with you is not likely to be sustained. After they share their anguish with you, they will likely return to their daily routine, including:  hanging out with their friends; going to classes, participating in study groups and meetings, studying, meeting people for lunch/dinner. In other words, they often feel better after they've vented with you, and they move back into their lives as students.  On the other hand, after the conversation they've transferred some of their despair to you. Remember to take care of yourself, including reminding yourself that both you and your student are going to be OK!

There are many resources available for students on campus.  Please click here for a list of campus resources. 

Parents can be an important pathway for emerging adults learning more about the resources available. However, parents may sometimes struggle with accepting that emerging adults may choose not to follow up on the recommendations given to them.  Support, encourage and even challenge them, but keep in mind that their choices about accessing resources are ultimately theirs. 

For more information on CSB/SJU Counseling & Health Promotion resources, please visit our website:  http://www.csbsju.edu/chp.htm.