Free-Range Kids

East Carolina University Offers 'Adulting Classes' for Fragile Students

Mental health services are strained-the kids just can't handle failure.


Monika Adamczyk / Dreamstime

East Carolina University is offering a new program for its students: "Adulting."

The idea is to teach kids coping skills, including how to deal with the trauma of getting a "C" grade.

The school felt compelled to do this after a soaring number of students started overburdening the campus's existing mental health services—so much that ECU had to hire two new counselors.

According to the local paper, The Daily Reflector:

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Virginia Hardy presented the evidence in a report to the University Affairs Committee of ECU's Board of Trustees in July. According to the report, there were a record number of student conduct, Title IX and general Dean of Students cases in the 2014-15 academic year, and the university saw a spike in demand for counseling services, disability support services and the university's Behavioral Concerns and Care teams.

The adulting classes are designed to help students turn off the negative thoughts in their heads when something goes wrong, which seems like a great skill to have. For real. Wish I'd had that training as a college kids.

But the college also recognizes that the underlying problem seems to be that kids are growing up with very little exposure to failure. In part, this is because of the "Everybody gets a trophy" culture, but more intriguingly, it could also be because kids' exposure to social media means they are seeing a highlight reel of their friends' lives all the time. Not pictured are the breakups, the bad hair days, and the boredom of everyday life.

I suspect that another big part of the problem is this generation has grown up with almost no unsupervised time. From "Mommy & Me" music classes on up through travel soccer, they have always had adults on hand to cheer, solve, ferry, console, consult, and, when necessary, call the teacher. Or a lawyer.

My favorite Parents magazine article included this bit of advice to parents: Even if your child is old enough to stay home alone, never leave the premises when she is having a playdate. "You want to make sure that no one's feelings get too hurt if there's a squabble."

So I don't even blame parents for helicoptering. They have been instructed to do by a culture that has systematically undermined all our confidence in our kids. We have been told by the authorities that they simply aren't safe, emotionally or physically, without us at their side.

That's the generation arriving at college now, unable to cope with a rotten roommate, or rude remark. We raised them to depend on adults to solve their problems, so it's no surprise that that's exactly what they're doing.

Kudos to East Carolina for trying to help these young folks realize their own resilience, however ridiculous "adulting" classes sound. And double kudos for the fact the university is now considering how to get the feeder schools—elementary on up—to work on the same thing.

Or maybe the key is to not work on the same thing—and let the kids work it out themselves. Because when we let them, they can grow up to be adults.