Pundits have already christened the freshmen in college as The Pandemic Generation. According to website WhatToBecome, about one-quarter of college freshmen enroll in remedial classes, attempting to compensate for deficiencies in their high school instruction. What can separated or divorced parents do to help their struggling college kids in the age of COVID-19?
The Pandemic Generation
The federal mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic is still having ripple effects, as described by the New York Times. Some salient facts:
- Mathematics scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (aka the nation’s report card) for fourth and eighth graders have dropped in almost every state, including Virginia
- Reading scores on the same assessment fell in more than half our states, including Virginia
- Roughly only a third of Virginia’s children are proficient in mathematics and reading
- High school graduation rates have dipped since the pandemic, with Virginia bucking the trend with a very slight uptick of 0.7 percent, says Chalkbeat
- Undergraduate enrollment in college has fallen 4.2 percent since 2020
- Low-income and students of color have fled community colleges
- The continuing pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic also places strains on students’ mental health, resilience, and perseverance, with increased incidents of suicidal ideation, depression, and anxiety
If you are the separated or divorced parent of a college-age child, you already know the strain your child is feeling. Yet the freshman frustration typical of most 17- and 18-year-olds is compounded by many circumstances:
- Your separation or divorce may have come at a difficult time in your teen’s development, making their adjustment especially challenging
- Due to COVID-19, your child had a disrupted high school experience, juggling online learning with normal pursuits and then integration back into a physical classroom
- Separation and divorce can cause a host of problems, including diminished learning capacities in students, says Marripedia
Your young adult is living through the same transition countless others have made, from secondary school child to semi-independent adult. College brings its own set of fears—fitting in, having beliefs tested, making tough choices—but with the pandemic, your freshman has new fears to confront:
- Inadequate preparation for college life
- Poor socialization in the final two years of high school
- Anxiety about previously “normal” aspects of college life, such as parties, fraternities, all-nighters, sexual experimentation, drug and alcohol use; many high school experiences that once served as dress rehearsals for these moments never happened for the Pandemic Generation
Expect your child to have fears and frustrations no other cadre of freshmen have had. If your child surprises you and your ex-spouse, celebrate. But if—as is happening across the country to many families—your teen is struggling, you and your child’s mother can help.
How You Can Help
As with most adult situations, you are a role model for your child. You and your ex-spouse need to approach your child’s freshman struggles as a united team, no matter how the separation or divorce unfolded.
Demonstrate to your child that:
- Almost all colleges have guardrails in place to provide the maximum protection from COVID-19 itself, such as at George Mason University
- You and your ex-spouse both care about your child’s success and are ready to help
- You recognize that your college freshman is a young adult, not a child needing you to make all the decisions
- A choice to seek remedial help, tutoring, or academic coaching is brave and smart
All three of you need to have a realistic (not pessimistic) understanding of the difficulties. Your college freshman may use a few worn-out chestnuts:
- “The professors don’t like me”
- “I can’t make friends”
- “I’m too homesick to do well academically”
- “I have no time to study because I’m also delivering pizzas to make money”
You and your ex-spouse can listen but must avoid encouraging such negative talk. You do not have time for the excuses and need to get to the heart of the problem, then prompt your young adult to remedy it:
- Avoid laying blame on your ex-spouse, your college freshman, or the school
- Suggest resources to your young adult, such as virtual health and well-being tools like TimelyMD
- Avoid being “helicopter” or “lawnmower” parents; your job is not to clear the way of obstacles so that your child can proceed effortlessly through life; your job, says The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, is to help your child find the tools and skills needed to overcome obstacles
But She and I Do Not Agree!
Parents have no legal obligation to pay for their child’s college education. After divorce, neither of you is obligated by any outside influence to worry over, care for, or help your college freshman. Most parents, though, are parents for life (whether separated, still married, or divorced). You want to help. Your ex-spouse wants to help.
You and your ex need not agree on everything, but you must rally around your Pandemic Generation child. At least in this one area, even if everything else in the separation and divorce is a hot mess, you can agree on some things:
- You both produced a fine, upstanding child
- You both want your child to succeed
- You both can help your child succeed
The experience of helping your COVID-19 kid at college can actually be the nucleus of better communication and a more positive relationship after separation or divorce. You may possibly be able to leverage that—by working with your family law attorney—to bring improvements to your property settlement agreement or final divorce decree.
The Firm For Men is ready to help Virginia’s men deal with all aspects of separation and divorce. Contact us today or telephone our offices at (757) 383-9184 so that we may assist you with issues like child custody, parenting time, and financial security.