top of page
  • NYS Writers Institute

Parenting college students in the age of COVID-19

Dr. B. Janet Hibbs, bestselling psychologist and renowned expert on adolescent mental health, emailed us an original and (as yet) unpublished reflection on the coronavirus to share with the Writers Institute and University at Albany communities.

The author of the current bestseller, The Stressed Years of Their Lives: Helping Your Kids Survive and Thrive During Their College Years (2019, with Anthony Rostain, MD), Dr. Hibbs was scheduled to visit us on Thursday, April 23 (now postponed).

Parenting College Students in the Age of COVID-19

by B. Janet Hibbs, M.F.T., Ph.D.

The pandemic Corona virus ratchets the levels of anxiety and depression even higher as college students, their parents, college faculties and staff experience dislocation and uncertainty. These are anxious times.

Borrowing from Ron Weasley, facing down arachnophobia and the giant spider Aragog, in The Chamber of Secrets, "Is it time to panic yet?" As Ben Zimmer of the Wall Street Journal informs us, the word panic is derived from Pan, the Greek god of nature. Pan was half goat, half man, and better known for partying, but also for terrifying screams. In the United States, the Pan response to the virus swings wildly between “corona with a lime,” and absolute panic.

This spring break, the beach scenes mimicked the Greek partying god, with students seemingly oblivious to the real risk they posed to family and community spread of the virus. Living in a “campus bubble” may have contributed to this complacency and denial of the real world consequences. Denial is a sturdy, but immature coping strategy, which doesn't bode well for a youth's ongoing risk-taking.

Viewing the scene, my first thought was of their parents. Parents are the new partners to college mental health and wellness providers. Your job of raising your teen or young adult is not over. Colleges and communities need you to continue to assist in the decades-long development of social emotional maturity, the sine qua non of college and life success. One of its eight factors is risk management. Parents, please impose tough love 2-week social distancing/self-isolation rules at this time. Be prepared for the blow-back of sneers that you're over-reacting, or a mix of your child's anger, frustration, disappointment. That's ok... it's tough to raise a grown-up.

At the other end of the response spectrum, is panic. Again, first to parents: manage your own anxiety about the pandemic now sweeping the U.S. When we manage our own anxieties, and focus on what we can control, we're better equipped to keep the conversation going with our kids. Be empathic. Listen and don't dismiss your student's concerns; don't judge or minimize their disappointments: being gypped out of a commencement ceremony, missing their friends. Agree that the timing is awful and that life isn't fair. All true. Acknowledge their truth, their losses, their challenging life experiences, even those that seem minor in comparison with your own.

Additional anxiety and stress arises from the abrupt closure and extension of spring break to one of remote learning at more than 100 U.S. colleges and universities. The most vulnerable students hadn’t budgeted a flight home, or a flight to collect their belongings. Housing and food insecurity, even loss of health insurance, has left many students shocked, angry and even fatalistic. One student told me he was coping through “nihilism.” First the climate, then a degree that gleans less than a living wage, and now this, captured his perspective.

What can parents, college staff and students do in this disconcerting and stressful time?

  • Use common sense strategies to promote health safety for self and others.

  • Reduce anxiety and avoid depression by creating purpose and routine.

  • Create a specific routine, a rough workaday guide to your life. Beyond intention, build a specific plan for exercise, study and video hang-outs.

  • Practice healthy sleep and eating habits. Again, make a specific plan.

  • Avoid crowds-but stay connected through social media, texts, video-calls.

  • Watch or listen to funny clips, upbeat songs. Laugh.

  • Don’t “doom surf.” Instead tune in to a trusted news source, but sparingly.

  • Seek help when needed, either through college tele-therapy sessions, or student-led groups, such as

  • If you find yourself becoming more depressed, reach out for help; The Crisis Text Line: or text Help to 741741.

And, perhaps counter-intuitively for students--ask your parents, your grandparents or oldest family member to share how they got through an especially hard time in their lives. The history-taking of resilience within one’s own family can be positively contagious.

What do you think? Share your comments below.

Today is the first day of "virtual" classes for UAlbany students following spring break. How is it going?

What advice would you share as the parent of a college student dealing with the coronavirus pandemic? How did your loved ones in previous generations overcome the challenges of hard times?

The postponed event with Dr. B. Janet Hibbs (date TBA) will be a partnership of the University at Albany's Center for Behavioral Health Promotion and Applied Research, RNA Institute, School of Public Health, Women in Science and Health network (WISH), and the Hudson Valley RNA Club.


bottom of page