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How to help an adult child who just “flunked” college

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Cerith Gardiner - published on 07/03/23

Here are a few handy tips to help your child through a difficult situation as they're just stepping out into adult life.

One of the hardest things to deal with in life is failure, especially as a child. Of course, there is lots of wisdom out there that reminds us that we can learn and grow from our mistakes, or that God will only give us the struggles that we can handle.

However, the fact is, if a child fails school it can not only limit future career choices, it can significantly affect their mental health. So if your young adult is really not coping, as a parent what can you do?

Before I begin, I’d like to point out that I’m not a professional psychologist. I’m good with teens. I understand then and have had four myself, and I’ve also had the privilege of teaching thousands over the past couple of decades.

The tips I’m suggesting are what have worked for me — considering two of my children have had substantial difficulties at school and some of my students have also failed school. Perhaps you will find these suggestions useful if you, too, ever face the same situation.

Be aware

Sometimes teens are scared of what their parents might say, so they will try and hide their failure for as long as possible. I’ve had students make up false reports. I’ve also had one student (who was financing his education himself) never tell his parents that he’d failed. He pretended to go to school for a whole year.

Unfortunately, as they realize they can’t find a solution, this avoidance will eat away at them. So keep an eye out on mood swings, eating habits, weight changes, and what your child is doing during the day. (I appreciate these changes are also part and parcel of being a young adult and can be hard to verify if they’re not at home, but regular contact with your adult children will give you an indication if they’re suffering.)

Be open to failure

It’s important to remember that not everybody passes their college education. That doesn’t mean they’re intellectually inferior. It might be that they’re not mature enough to handle that level of study, or that external factors, such as COVID or peer pressure, have had an impact on your child. Or maybe they just chose the wrong degree program. It’s very difficult to definitively know at the age of 18 what you want to do with the rest of your life. Some people take decades to figure that out!

Address the issue with kindness

This may seem obvious, but parents often feel upset at the financial impact of flunking, or that a year has been “lost.” Remember, however, that the year wasn’t wasted. Your child will have learnt valuable skills and lessons along the way.

As for the finances, unfortunately I’ve seen students really crack under the pressure of seeing a huge amount of money ostensibly go down the drain. That’s a tricky one. But try to think long-term, and don’t make them feel even worse than they’re already feeling.

Be proactive … but to a point

If your child fails, it’s not your job to go and fix everything. This failure is an opportunity for growth, whether they like it or not. Point your son or daughter in the direction of solutions, but don’t provide the answers yourself.

Have them research other options, seek the advice of a career counselor, or fill out job applications. By all means, confirm that they’re actually doing the work, but it’s important that they take control.

Remind them of the most important thing of all

One of the most exciting things in life is that we have access to so many pathways. We never know where a particular path will take us, but along the way we’re constantly learning and preparing ourselves for the next step of our journey.

And that is the beauty of life — to embrace each step, accepting the good and the bad, and seeing where your road leads you next. A young adult is just starting out on their journey, and if there aren’t a few bumps along the way, then there’s nothing left to learn, and that would be rather sad indeed.

Tags:
Catholic LifestyleEducationTeens
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