In a matter of days, college students will finish their exams and head home for the Christmas holidays, which will be anywhere from three weeks to one month long. How will your college-aged young adults spend their down time?
A quick informal online survey indicates that college students plan to travel, socialize, sleep, watch Netflix, or return to a part-time summer job for a few hours a week. Among the many varied activities they reported were sprinkled comments about being bored and/or depressed. Statistically, one in five college-aged young adults reports anxiety or depression. Is your child one of them?
Although I'm a writer, not a mental health professional, I got some very good advice from professionals and other praying college moms I'd like to share with you if your child seems anxious or depressed over winter break.
First, is your child eating well? Among some college-aged young adults, healthful eating is the current "rage", but even if they're trying to eat well, they may be deficient in Vitamin D or not consuming enough fat or calories. This can be especially true for girls. Or maybe they're eating too many calories at school. Common reasons for putting on the College 15lbs...
Decreased physical activity or less involvement in sports.
Unlimited food and beverage choices offered in dining halls.
An increase in snacking, late night eating and convenience foods.
Drinking more calorie-dense beverages such as sugary coffee drinks, regular soda, energy drinks and/or alcohol.
Weight gain or poor nutrition can contribute to anxiety and depression, so you might want to have a conversation with your child about his/her school diet. "What's the food like in the cafeteria?" or "What's your favorite thing to eat at college?" can be good openers. Remember, we're information gathering, not looking to make derogatory comments about their diet. We can best encourage them to eat healthfully by providing healthy options at home and setting a good example, which, admittedly can be difficult during the holidays.
Lack of sleep is another contributing factor to anxiety and depression. College kids stay up late and sometimes get up early for class. If they're catching up on their sleep when winter break begins, great, but if "sleeping in" turns into sleeping most of the time, it can be a sign of depression. Encouraging them to rise "with the family" in the morning can help them reset their internal clocks and improve their nighttime sleep as well.
Social media use also affects sleep. Nearly half of college students say they answer texts or calls during the night. And when they're awake are they on their phones at the expense of socializing or family time? Much has been written about social media links to depression, and our job as parents is to help our young adults learn temperance where phone usage is concerned. Some suggestions from praying college moms: Ban phones from the dinner table. Dock all phones (including parents') in recharging stations away from the bedrooms before retiring for the night. Leave phones at home when taking a family holiday outing.
Boredom, which is another common reason why college-aged young adults report anxiety or depression, can be allayed over the winter break if they're able to take on a part-time job or volunteer activity while they're home. Having responsibility outside the house can help a young adult make some extra money for the new semester, and establish a more "9-5" schedule.
Are they doing too much streaming? One mom suggests offering to share "your latest book club book" with them to help them avoid endless Netflix binging. Another mom suggests establishing "no TV" boundaries for the whole family. If you can't beat them, "join them," says another mom. "Watch a few shows with them so that you can share the program together," she adds.
As your child's parent, you are best able to address poor nutrition, over-sleeping, boredom, anxiety, or depression you notice in your college-aged young adult. But any remedy you set in motion will likely require setting boundaries for them. This can take courage, self-discipline, and sacrificial love! As mentioned in chapter 13 of And So We Pray, the need for boundaries is well-established in a book by the same title, Boundaries. The authors, Doctors Henry Cloud and John Townsend, are also psychologists. In the book, they share Biblical principles for establishing emotional, physical, and spiritual boundaries. This book, or one of their many other related titles might make the perfect Christmas gift for a praying college mom you know! Ho Ho Ho!