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Anxious College Students Are Eating Alone in their Rooms. Let Grow May Have a Solution

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Read Time: 3 minutes

The Wall Street Journal reports that today’s college students are so lonely, sad, and anxious that they grab their dining hall food to go—preferring to eat in their rooms.

Time spent in dining halls is down 40 percent. Attendance at sporting events, clubs, and even dorm meetings is down too. The Journal quotes one residential adviser who said several students asked to attend her meeting by Zoom, even though they were down the hall.

There’s also less class participation and more students handing in half-finished assignments. These same students are then shocked when they get Fs.

Anxious college students or itty bitty preschoolers?

Props to reporter Douglas Belkin and assistant Harry Carr for gleaning so many granular examples of a generation that seems to have arrived on campus undercooked. The authors found that at Wesleyan University, student government meetings used to begin with a walk around campus. Today the student leaders still take a walk, but they hold onto a shared rope, preschool style.

It is no longer a surprise that anxiety on campus is increasing. The stats are actually too sad to print here. Suffice to say that so many students are demanding therapy that hundreds of colleges have contracted with a telehealth company that promises to find students a therapist within five minutes.

Experts are debating the cause of all this anxiety, and there are plenty of potential culprits: the COVID closures, political extremism, and even the advent of the “like” button. But could one unnoticed factor be the fact that this generation spent so little time unsupervised as kids?

Less independence, more anxiety.

Today, the majority of parents of tweens 9 to 11 will not let them walk to a friend’s house or play at the park with a friend. It’s easy to see how a generation of kids never allowed to make their own fun or solve their own problems might just become anxious college students, unprepared for the real world.

Or even eating in the dining hall.

And what about the fact that most of these students grew up with cellphones? I’m not talking about TikTok or social media. I’m talking about the fact that nowadays when a kid’s bike chain falls off, they can instantly call Dad to come fix it.

When the opposite happens — when kids play and roam unsupervised, with other kids of different ages — they learn important skills: creativity, communication, compromise, compassion, and leadership. When they get to complete some real-world tasks on their own, they discover that they can be helpful, capable, and resourceful.

Until we give kids back some independence to run around, play, explore, and expand, we must expect more anxious college students, clinging to the rope like toddlers. Because that’s how they have been treated all their lives.

Some free materials for raising can-do kids.

At Let Grow, we’re working to reverse a culture stunting kids with excessive caution. If you’d like to get our free Independence Kit, please click here. We’ll send you the Family Edition for kids and tweens, and our new Independence Inventory for teens. If you’re at a school and would like to consider our free independence-building materials for teachers and counselors, please click here. And if you’d like to discuss what you are seeing in college-age kids that could be headed off at the pass with a slightly less adult-supervised childhood, please head over to our Facebook Group, Raising Independent Kids, here. And discuss!

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