Anxieties Unbound

Ian Mitroff
3 min readApr 12, 2024

Helping Parents Deal with Their Anxiety About Their Kids Going Off to College Is at Best Only Half of the Struggle

I’m publishing this series of articles to share and discuss my ruminations on coping with a troubled and messy world. You can “follow” me to never miss an article.

Mathilde Ross, who is a Senior Staff Psychiatrist at Boston University Health Services, has written an extremely informative and thus a very helpful Op-Ed about helping Parents deal with the Anxiety they experience when their Kids go off to College[i]. In a word, it’s natural for Kids to feel Anxiety when they leave home for the first time and experience the ups and downs of their initial College years. It’s exacerbated by the fact that “in 2022 nearly 14 percent of 18-to-25-year-olds reported having serious thoughts about suicide”.

When she receives a typical call from Parents who are overly concerned about their Kids, Dr. Ross tries to reassure them that a certain amount of Anxiety is Normal and thus not to be terribly concerned about it. Unfortunately, increasingly her message doesn’t work, if not making things worse.

In her words:

“Today’s parents are suffering from anxiety about anxiety, which is actually much more serious than anxiety. It’s self-fulfilling and not easily soothed by logic or evidence, such as the knowledge that most everyone adjusts to college.

“Anxiety has gotten so bad that some parents actually worry if their student isn’t anxious. This puts a lot of pressure on unanxious students — it creates anxiety about anxiety about anxiety. (This happens all the time. Well-meaning parents tell their kid to make an appointment with our office to make sure their adjustment to college is going OK.) If the student says she’s fine, the parents worry that she isn’t being forthright. This is the conundrum about anxiety — there’s really no easy way to combat it.”

As such, Dr. Ross worries that the “current obsession with mental health is disempowering parents from helping their adult children handle ordinary things. People are increasing fearful that any normal emotion is a sign of something serious.”

In short, sending a child to a Mental Health Professional at the first signs of distress deprives Parents of the Golden Opportunity to foster and strengthen their relationships with them.

As I read Dr. Ross’s well-meaning words, I was of course reminded of the greater Anxieties with which we increasingly besieged on a daily, if not minute by minute, basis. As I’ve written many times before, we are more dependent than ever on wise leaders such as President Biden to help us cope as best we can.

[i] Mathilde Ross, “Anxious Parents Are the Ones Who Need Help,” The New York Times, Thursday, April 11, 2024, P A24.

Ian I. Mitroff is credited as being one of the principal founders of the modern field of Crisis Management. He has a BS, MS, and a PhD in Engineering and the Philosophy of Social Systems Science from UC Berkeley. He Is Professor Emeritus from the Marshall School of Business and the Annenberg School of Communication at USC. Currently, he is a Senior Research Affiliate in the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, UC Berkeley. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Management. He has published 41 books. His latest is: The Socially Responsible Organization: Lessons from Covid, Springer, New York, 2022.

Photo by Niklas Hamann on Unsplash

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