Push them to problem-solve challenges on their own

How can we help young adults who experience (sometimes debilitating) mental health challenges?

The presence of anxiety and depression among America’s youth is strong. I was blown away by a recent Slate article on this topic, written by Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise and AdultIn her article, “Kids of Helicopter Parents are Sputtering Out,” Lythcott-Haims shared some troubling statistics describing the prevalence of the mental health crisis on college campuses. In her article, she cites evidence linking “intrusive parenting” with struggling students.

For example:

  • 2012 study of 438 college students reported in the Journal of Adolescence found “initial evidence for this form of intrusive parenting being linked to problematic development in emerging adulthood … by limiting opportunities for emerging adults to practice and develop important skills needed for becoming self-reliant adults.”
  • 2013 study of 297 college students reported in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that college students with helicopter parents reported significantly higher levels of depression and less satisfaction in life and attributed this diminishment in well-being to a violation of the students’ “basic psychological needs for autonomy and competence.”
  • And a 2014 study from researchers at the University of Colorado–Boulder is the first to correlate a highly structured childhood with less executive function capabilities. Executive function is our ability to determine which goal-directed actions to carry out and when and is a skill set lacking in many kids with attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Many of my young adult and college student clients have struggled with, or are currently working through, the thwarting impact of mental illness in their lives. In a recent presentation I made for parents of incoming college students I invited them to consider how their relationship with their student is changing as the student prepares to start college.

My first bit of advice – “Push them to problem-solve challenges on their own.” 

I go on to invite them to watch out for Madeline Levine’s signs of overparenting, which Lythcott-Haims cites in her article when she writes:

“Madeline Levine, psychologist and author of The Price of Privilegesays that there are three ways we might be overparenting and unwittingly causing psychological harm:

  • When we do for our kids what they can alreadydo for themselves;
  • When we do for our kids what they can almostdo for themselves; and
  • When our parenting behavior is motivated by our own egos.”

(Takes deep breath).

Again, I calmly say… “Push them to problem-solve challenges on their own.” 

From my perspective as someone who works with job seekers daily, I can tell you that a client’s resilience and their capacity for independent problem-solving are probably the traits that I most hope to help them build through our coaching relationship.

Why? So many reasons!

Employers want to hire folks who are resilient in times of struggle, and who have the independent problem-solving skills to manage through obstacles in their workplace. These skills also serve our students well in their actual job searches (which can be up and down while waiting for the right opportunity to come to fruition).

Finally, I suspect problem-solving will be one of the skills that will best serve this generation going forward. I tell my clients that today they are actually preparing themselves for jobs that do not yet exist. With the speed with which change is occurring and the forces of technology and globalization, for example, the future for young adults is uncertain. However, the good news is that with problem-solving and career development skills on their side, they will be ready for these challenges and prepared to convert that unknown landscape into a very positive and hopeful future.

Reflection:

What are your best strategies or techniques for helping young adults and college students to begin cultivating their own independent problem-solving skills?

(One of favorites you can use when they come to you with an issue?  Begin by first asking, “Wow, that sounds tough. What are your ideas for how to get through this?” … and see what brilliant ideas they come up with first… ) 

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Free agents and the future of work

Today I don’t blink when clients or friends tell me they aren’t after the traditional employer-employee workplace arrangement. For many, the idea of working a 9-5 job, 40+ hours per week for a single employer sounds stifling. This wasn’t the case even 20 years ago. What happened?

Recently, the idea of being a “free agent” has gone mainstream. Articles vetting this idea are popping up in newspapers and magazines more and more (See the Star Tribune’s “Millennials thinking outside the cubicle”).

My first clear exposure to the idea that traditional employer-employee relationships might be shifting happened in 2012 in Salt Lake City.

I was at a conference for career services people and attended a session where we talked about how career professionals should advise students who are seeking out commission-only work, contract-based assignments, or who want to work seasonally or in part-time positions to accommodate other interests and goals.

This requires letting go of my own biases and getting in touch with shifts in how people and organizations think about work so I can help clients apply that information as they evaluate their own options.

Here is my list of the top 4 forces that I believe are fueling this trend:

1. The millenial generation

  • Millenials, those born approximately 1982 to the early 2000s, grew up in volatile times.
  • For many, 9/11 was a generation-defining moment.
  • While sometimes called “Generation Me”, they do exude a drive and passion for making the world a better place. For many, this fuels more passion for social entrepreneurship than entering the established “race to the top.”
  • They have grown up in a time when national student loan debt surpassed $1 trillion, outpacing consumer loan debt in the U.S.
  • The Great Recession necessitated that many of these young professionals take up a “portfolio” of work when their ideal jobs were scarce.

2. The rise of technology, the share economy, and rapid innovation

  • The online horizon is long, with ample opportunities for contributing via blogs, creating your own website, and creating a digital identity and brand.
  • Accessing markets for products and services is easier with the help of the web.
  • Online payment systems like the Square credit card swipe tool
  • The growing share economy makes it easier to both outsource tasks to others or make money on the side to fuel your passions (think Task Rabbit or Uber).

3. The minimalist movement

  • The simple living movements are gaining momentum as a growing number of people choose to “opt out” of the ideal of a large house and enough cars for each driver.
  • Entire shows are popping up featuring “tiny house enthusiasts” who desire to minimize expenses and maximize experience by choosing to live in homes 1,000 square feet or less, many under 500 square feet.

4. Infrastructure to support the “free agent”

  • It isn’t so lonely to go it alone. You can now join a co-working organization and pay membership dues to share office space and amenities previously only available in larger corporations.
  • Online groups help people connect and find one another for networking, brainstorming, and ongoing professional development.
  • Free online course sites, like Coursera, help people find new training and build new skills in an on-demand format.
  • Unions are even forming for freelancers.
  • Finally, health care reform means many Americans are beginning to feel safer uncoupling themselves from their employer-sponsored health care plans that may have previously kept them in gigs that were less than ideal.

What are your thoughts? Are you a “free agent” now or is it your goal? Do you worry about the risk of unstrapping yourself from the perceived security of a large employer?  What technology, tools, or services have made it easier for you to go it alone? What has surprised you in the process?

Article: Stymied on the cusp of college

A look at what happens to the 10 to 15 percent of college-bound students annually who do not end up starting college in the fall.

During the summer before college, students must complete complex tasks often unrelated to the academic skills and abilities that earned them college admission in the first place. These tasks include verifying income information on financial-aid applications, evaluating supplementary-loan applications, reviewing health-insurance options, and scrambling to cover the costs of attendance not paid for by financial aid. Students from college-educated families have parents, if not private consultants, who help them complete these tasks. Low-income and first-generation students, on the other hand, more often must navigate these hurdles on their own.

Stymied on the cusp of college, from the Chronicle for Higher Education (10/6/14)