How we can ask more specific questions to ensure that our young adults aren’t struggling in silence and be honest about what they’re experiencing in higher education.

When asking “How are you?” to your young adult, have you ever wondered if there’s something more behind the curtains of their “I’m fine” answer?  I wish I could take credit for the f.i.n.e. acronym.  The acronym stands for “freak out, insecure, neurotic, and emotional” or, “feelings inside not expressed.”  The words we use convey so much more meaning than what we’re actually sharing.  As a parent, it’s time to listen deeper when you check in with your college student.  

When I worked on campus, if I got the “Everything is fine” response from a student I knew that there was an oncoming crisis.  This was nearly 100% accurate.  If they responded with “things are well” or “things aren’t so well, and this is what’s going on..” I knew they had self-awareness and we could jump into solutions rather quickly.  The students who said everything was “fine” were the ones in denial.  They believed they could still get themselves out of the hole they’d dug for themselves.  That is definitely not a simple task!  There were no plans in place and no action steps to initiate that change, other than just speaking the words out loud and blindly hoping the problem(s) would disappear.

In my office, I had a comic by KC Green hanging on the wall.  For the students who came in saying things were “fine,” I would point to the picture on the wall and sometimes ask “like this kind of ‘fine’?”  It’s a 6-panel cartoon of a dog in a burning house who ends up getting too close to the fire because it keeps telling itself “everything is ok.  This is just fine how it is.”  If a student is in crisis and still in denial, this truly could be accurate to how they’re experiencing college at that moment.  We need to ask them the right questions to get to the root of their issues.  

In being more attuned to the language that our young people are using, and in being more aware of what are some common struggles on campus, you can really help your young adult. Dr. Marcia Morris did an amazing job of highlighting very common problems, pressures, and crisis that college students are facing nowadays in The Campus Cure.  If you haven’t read this book yet, check it out now!

As a parent of a college student, turn up your active listening ear the next time you speak to them.  Ask them how they’re doing.  Ask them how you can support them.  Make sure they aren’t sending out major hints that they’re covering up struggles.  The opening up will only start if you are tuned in to asking open-ended questions and digging deeper if your student ever tells you “I’m fine.”

BIO: Owner of Lilley Consulting, Joanna works solely with young adults who need to be connected to academic support, mental health or substance abuse treatment programs.  Sometimes these young adults are soon-to-enroll college students, currently enrolled, or those who have already left feeling defeated.  She works with the entire family to help them heal and grow.  You can connect with Joanna to learn more about her here: