How to Get Your Undergrad’s Mood in Check

New surroundings, no parents—college students are especially vulnerable to mental health struggles. Joani Geltman, the Natick-based author of A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens, shares four ways for parents to smooth the transition to the (semi)autonomous world.

undergrad mood

Illustration by Tommy White

Empower, don’t rescue.

If Junior is unhappy, don’t offer up his bedroom. “The danger is that a child won’t learn to tolerate uncomfortable emotions or develop coping strategies,” Geltman warns. Instead, validate his emotions by saying, “‘Anxiety is normal. Tell me what that feels like.’”

Form a partying plan.

Routine alcohol use can deplete levels of dopamine and serotonin, fueling anxiety and depression. Instead of framing that kegger as a moral choice, get scientific and explain how the body processes alcohol.

Encourage a schedule.

“College students have more time than ever to do what they want,” Geltman says. In this distorted framework, kids can procrastinate and nap too much. Push them to schedule their homework to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Bring in the pros.

Still worried? It may be time to seek outside support. McLean Hospital’s College Mental Health Program, for example, helps more than 600 young adults every year.