Possibilities Pick

The Stressed Years of Their Lives: Helping Your Kid Survive and Thrive During Their College Years

Authors: B. Janet Hibbs, PhD, MFT and Anthony Rostain, MD, MA

Publisher: St Martin’s Press, 2019

Whether you have a young adult currently in post-secondary school, or a child who dreams of university or college, this Possibilities Pick is a must-read! Written by psychologist B. Janet Hibbs and psychiatrist Anthony Rostain, The Stressed Years of Their Lives examines the joyous, and often turbulent, transition from home to school during young adulthood. Dr. Hibbs and Dr. Rostain are experts in the subject of adolescent transitions—both as clinicians and as parents—and their book benefits from very personal and clinical accounts of young adults struggling to find their way. 

There is great breadth and depth of content here—all skillfully written with accessible language, clever analogies and sensitive observations. As adolescents face monumental challenges—like being away from home amidst the onslaught of new academic demands—the teen brain is fraught with hormonal and developmental changes. Risky decisions and impulsive behaviors—everything that keeps parents up at night—are products of an evolving brain whose frontal lobes aren’t fully developed enough to put on the brakes. This is also the time in the brain’s transformation when mental health disorders like anxiety and depression can emerge.

Hibbs and Rostain cover the statistics and warning signs so parents can be on the look-out. They also consider the societal pressures that got us here. Parents are stressed and students are stressed—and constant comparisons, judgements and unrealistic expectations fueled by social media aren’t helping. But all is not doom and gloom.

Hibbs and Rostain explain that some young adults are well prepared for the transition to post-secondary school, while others are not. How do they define readiness? Hibbs and Rostain argue that students who are ready for the transition have demonstrated the ability to overcome three typical, yet negative, mindsets: a fear of not belonging, a fear of failing academically, and unrealistic expectations about what is means to succeed. If you have concerns that your child struggles in any of these areas, the authors offer practical strategies, grounded in science and solid clinical practice. In some cases, help from experts may also be required. 

At the October 2019 CADDRA Conference in Toronto, I sat down with Dr. Rostain who agreed to speak to the Possibilities Clinic. I asked him about his book. He shared his own story of college: a false start at 16 when he was uncertain, unhappy and unprepared. He left before he finished and returned when he was ready. He credits his parents, academic mentors, real-world experiences, and the expertise of mental health professionals for his return and graduation.

This book is long overdue, and there is nothing quite like it. It’s so much more than a cautionary tale of Parent Beware. Read it and you’ll gain essential insight and direction for promoting readiness and resilience. You’ll also learn how colleges and universities protect student privacy, and how to advocate effectively, along with your child, if appropriate permissions are signed. Dealing constructively with marital and family stresses when a student boomerangs home prematurely is also covered in the book.

There is so much here that is informative, supportive and inspiring. If your teen is in university, read it now. If your child is in high school, read it now. If your child is in middle school, read it now. 

While you’re waiting for the book, visit NPR and read an excerpt. You can also listen to Dr. Hibbs and Dr. Rostain being interviewed by Terry Gross, host of NPR’s Fresh Air, about the pressures of college and what parents can do to help. Our own video interview with Dr. Rostain is now on YouTube! You can see part 1 of that interview on our YouTube Channel, Possibilities Clinic. We’ll post subsequent parts each week.

Stay informed and be proactive—and help make the stressed years of early adulthood some of the best years of your child’s life.

Review by Brenda S. Miles, Clinical Paediatric Neuropsychologist, Possibilities Clinic

This book is available through Cavershambooksellers.com

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