When Your Child Fails to Thrive at College

School is out for most college students, but how many won’t return in the fall or will eventually drop out altogether because of emotional or mental health difficulties, or a failure to adjust?

It’s not an insignificant problem, and black students are not immune. In fact, according to the Steve Fund, an organization dedicated to the mental health and emotional well-being of students of color, black students are more likely than students of other races to experience feelings of being less prepared for college, both academically and emotionally.

Some of the behaviors we’ve come to think of as typical of college students are not healthy and may be a sign that help is needed: acting out sexually, drinking too much, drug abuse, academic failure.

Below is an excerpt of an important article from U.S. News & World Report that discusses the often unmet emotional health needs of college students. It also includes the red flags that indicate that your child needs to come home now.


Many college students across the country struggle with anxiety and depression.

The reasons for the high rate of psychological problems range from ages 18 to 22 being a peak time for the first presentation of certain mental health issues to college being the first time many kids live and try to function away from home while having to perform at a high level.

College provides a wonderful opportunity to learn, grow, socialize, and find oneself. It also comes with ample temptation and access to alcohol and drugs and social pressures to belong and to be sexual. If a young adult is already struggling, these temptations can cause that individual to become self-destructive, suffer more, and function less. More kids are leaving school because they cannot manage or because the school, worried about their safety, has asked them to leave.

Summer is an important time to assess if your child is truly ready to live independently, and if not, to institute a plan that will allow your child to do so responsibly. In the name of love, many parents do so much for their children—including smoothing the way and preventing mistakes or failures—that kids don’t develop skills to live independently or to be able to cope with disappointment and failure.

Does your child get himself to the doctor as needed, go to teachers to discuss a problem, and take initiative to meet new people? Can he wash his own clothes, make his own food, take his own medication, and balance his own budget? As a parent, stepping away and transferring control to your child builds her confidence that she can take care of herself. Let her fail now, so she can figure out how to handle failure before dealing with problems that can be much larger and more difficult to negotiate.

Children who have had plenty of practice at home fending for themselves, building social skills, and recovering from making mistakes or disappointments will be better equipped and, more importantly, know they are better equipped, to weather their college years.

What to Do If Your College Kid Is Having Emotional Difficulties

If your college kid is struggling with emotional difficulties, the best-case-scenario is that you can help find local resources where he or she is to provide support and treatment while your child is at school. It’s better that students remain in school while getting help as long as they are not having any thoughts of suicide, are not abusing drugs or alcohol, and are able to continue to function adequately and take care of themselves.

Connecting with college mental health services is a fine place to start. Often, a student can get a mental health evaluation and receive therapy and, if needed, medication without leaving campus. However, if mental health professionals on campus are only able to provide a few sessions, you may need to ask for referrals to local practitioners so your child can be seen more frequently for a longer period of time to feel better. If, however, your child is thinking about suicide (and you should make sure to ask about this), is not getting out of bed, is not going to classes, is regularly using substances, or seems to be losing touch with reality, these are red flags that a child needs to be seen by a professional immediately and should come home.

Read more at U.S. News & World Report.