As a society, we want to label each generation. We’ve labeled generations as Baby Boomer, Generation X, and Millennial. Some have labeled the current generation as Generation Apathetic. Whether or not you think these labels apply globally, many of today’s current college students are apathetic about their college experiences. They see college as a phase through which they must move or an archaic pre-requisite for getting a job. They see college as a “spectator sport” which should require little of them. They approach college with a consumer mentality or market thinking – they see education as a product which their (or your) tuition dollars are purchasing. They are interested in a fast, cheap, degree.
These are some tough accusations.
Of course, there are many students who do not fit into any of the above categories. They are engaged, active, and truly vested in their education. They want to get the most that they can from their education, and they want to contribute to the world. Unfortunately, however, there are more students who suffer from apathy than we may realize. As a parent, you might consider whether your student fits into this category at all – and whether you can help him adjust his thinking.
Does the apathy label fit?
Students who are apathetic about their college experiences, who are disconnected and disengaged, are at greatest risk for low morale, for leaving school and/or for suffering depression. Of course, we all want the best for our college students, and we assume that our students will embrace their college experiences. However, you might consider whether your student is suffering from some degree of apathy by asking yourself some of the following questions:
- Does my student learn and do only what is required and no more?
- Is my student so busy working or socializing that he saves little of his energy for school?
- Has my student chosen her major for the “return on investment” rather than to fulfill a passion?
- Is my student generally unmotivated about school?
- Is my student disconnected or disengaged from the college experience – not really caring about much?
- Does my student avoid communicating with faculty members and advisors through appointments, e-mails or phone conversations?
- Does my student avoid studying?
- Does my student have a significant number of absences from his classes?
- Does my student ever misuse alcohol or drugs? Is he involved in binge drinking?
- Is my student involved in activities on campus?
- Does my student show a lack of concern for most social issues happening in the world today?
- Does my student show an inability to handle her own affairs?
- Is my student overly involved and reliant on technology?
Helping your student fight apathy
If you’ve answered yes to several of the questions above, it might be time to have a conversation with your student about his feelings toward and approach to his college experiences. Encourage him to think about his goals for the future and how college can help him achieve those goals. Try to encourage your college student to be involved in activities on campus and to find something about which he can be passionate. Encourage him to explore his interests and find others who may share those interests. He may need to talk to his advisor and/or investigate internships or volunteer opportunities that will help him connect his college experiences to the “real world”.
If your student feels that he truly cannot connect to his college experiences, and cannot actively engage himself in a meaningful way, then perhaps it is time to talk about whether college is the right experience for him right now. Perhaps a gap year or a gap semester may be helpful. Perhaps your student’s timetable needs to include some time away from school to discover his path.
Unfortunately, apathy is often contagious. As more students become apathetic, those around them may also begin to feel disconnected and unmotivated. However, once a student begins to tackle her apathy and work to engage and be involved, she may begin to be drawn to others on her campus who are also more engaged. Students who are engaged on their campuses are not only happier and more satisfied with their experiences, they are better students. Students who take charge of their lives begin to feel more in control of their path.
It is important to help your student consider whether he may be suffering from a degree of apathy and to realize that he can do something about it. As a parent, you can help him explore his needs and expectations for the college experience. Help him consider his interests and goals and how his involvement during his college years can help him to reach those goals.