University Classes Now Online? 10 Steps to Protect Your Child’s Mental Health

Only a couple of weeks ago I was writing about the parents I had been working with that were saying goodbye to their older teens who were flying the nest to begin their first year at university.

Now where have we got to?

Well, we have the disappointment of students who have moved into their uni digs only to find out within days of doing so that much of their learning will be online with government and university restrictions virtually confining them to their 10’ x 8’ bedrooms. Alongside the limited socialising outside of their halls of residence and the additional threat looming of not being able to travel home for Christmas – this wasn’t the start to uni life anticipated!

I’m not going to get into the politics of it all here or get into the debate around the government aiding landlords to be able to charge money for accommodation when students could have stayed at home. We live in a capitalist society - so money makes the UK go around - I get that. However – what does concern me are the implications on mental health for young people.

After a spring and summer of lockdown and social distancing – this really isn’t a situation to be taken lightly.

A move to university is a major life transition.

Students are vulnerable at this time but are supposed to be finding their way within relative safety and with the support and excitement of making new friends and meeting new people within the university community; taking advantage of the many new group activities, parties and societies that they could participate in. Coupled with the fact that most mental health issues begin by the time a person hits 24yrs – this 2020 Corona Special Edition has become the perfect storm for these problems to set in.

If we consider that a 2020 study showed that more than a quarter (37%) of students reported that their mental health had deteriorated since starting higher education we have to be realistic and believe that this new cohort of freshers are going to be under considerably more pressure and therefore at higher risk.

So what can you do, now that your baby is miles away?

It can be difficult for someone who is experiencing a mental health issue to first recognise that there is a problem and then to seek help for it – so we have a role to play. I would advise you to:

  • ONE: Make sure you understand that yes, whilst they might look all tall and grown – that they are still developing – emotionally, psychologically and socially and that we as parents still have a job to do in guiding them through.
  • TWO: Have a ‘mental health’ talk with your child. Sometimes we can casually suggest things to our children but I believe this is one of those topics that need underlining to your child as important. Do not allow your legitimate concerns to be dismissed or disregarded and ensure they know that the discussion you are having is not a debate. Plan your talk out and bullet point the things you need to say. Then, send it in an email to your son or daughter so they have a hard copy to refer back to.
  • THREE: Ensure your child has taken note of the mental health services available to them. Fortunately, the universities and people in our society in general are much more aware - and the stigma of struggling with mental health is not as potent as it has been – so there is lots of support available and these issues will be advertised through various campaigns around campus.
  • FOUR: Become familiar yourself, with the university guidance given.
  • FIVE: Have regular check-ins with your child and ensure you watch out for changes in attitude or behaviours.
  • SIX: If you can – set your child up with a mentor. Someone you know and who your child relates to – who can check in with your child every so often and whom your child feels comfortable enough to call.
  • SEVEN: Encourage your child from the get-go – to stay active. During these winter months it could be tempting for them to stay in and spend more time on social media or gaming. Exercise is going to be one of their best defenses and their are links to poor mental health and time spent online. Getting out in the day to catch a bit of autumn and winter sun will do wonders for them.
  • EIGHT: Encourage them to connect with the online social activities that their faculty will be hosting. Also to engage, safely, in the student networks and communities that will spring up across the campus.
  • NINE: Encourage them to have fun and in your regular conversations with them, ensure you are discussing lots of the good experiences they are having too.
  • TEN: Finally, if you do suspect that there is a problem – do not be afraid to contact the university yourself. Early intervention is key to preventing problems escalating to crisis point. Whilst the university cannot share confidential information about the action they will or will not take with your child – alerting them to a problem as it arises – will ensure that they have the earliest opportunity to intervene.

The best way to support your child is to take proactive measures.

If you can think of anymore – please comment below. Best wishes to you and yours, Anika

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