When I was younger, so much younger than today/ I never needed anybody's help in any way.
“Help!” by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
In a nutshell, here’s the problem: We offer an enormous array of opportunities for students to get help, but too many students don’t take advantage of them. Frankly, it frustrates me that students who need help don’t seek it.
“Well,” some would say, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”
I suppose that is true, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of things we can do to encourage the horse to drink. For example, we could make sure the water is just the temperature the horse likes, we could put a little salt in the horse’s feed, or we could sweeten the water.
So, even though I know we can’t make students seek help when they need it, I think a lot about how we can encourage them.
You, as parents, can be important allies in our efforts to promote appropriate help-seeking. Whether the issue is academic, social, health-related, or psychological, students commonly approach family and friends for help first.
Sometimes you will know about a challenge your student is facing before anyone here at the university does. I know you can’t (and probably shouldn’t) solve all of your son’s or daughter’s problems, but you certainly can encourage him or her to ask someone here for help. I’ll have a bit more on that later.
First, though, it might help to think about some of the reasons that students’ don’t seek help.
Lack of perceived need
A lot of times, students just don’t recognize that help is in order. They either think that they are doing fine even though all signs suggest otherwise, or they think things will get better without any help.
For instance, students whose grades are not what they want them to be often say things like, “I’ll be OK as long as I ace the final.” It’s unlikely that they are going to do much better on the final than they have done up to that point unless they do something different. Asking for help in figuring out what that something different is could make all the difference.
Concern about stigma
We know that students sometimes worry about what others will think of them if they seek help. Americans, in particular, highly value independence. We are a culture that promotes the idea that each of us should take care of our selves. That is more of a myth than a reality though. All of us need some help from time to time.
I like to tell students that asking for help is one element of effective problem solving. Asking for help isn’t an admission of failure. It’s a savvy move to ensure success. Very successful business leaders regularly hire consultants for help, and here on campus we have lots of people who serve as consultants, more or less, and who don’t even charge for their help.
Sometimes, students just don’t think that their resident assistant, professor, advisor, or a psychologist or physician, for example, can be effective in helping solve the problem they are confronting. Indeed, there are no guarantees.
It might help to know that whenever we ask students about their experiences with our support services, the vast majority express satisfaction. That doesn’t mean that our faculty and staff members are universally successful in helping students, but they certainly succeed much more often than they fail.
In any case, if a student can’t figure out a way forward, the only alternative to asking for help is failure. In that light, it’s worth accepting the risk that the help won’t be effective. And it’s worth trying another source if the first source isn’t effective.
Finally, often enough students just don’t know where to go for help. I try to remember that it took me 25 years here at the university to learn all I know about who does what and how we are organized. We are a pretty big place with overlapping services for students, so I am not surprised that students sometimes don’t know where to turn.
Here’s where you can help. If your student is living in a residence hall, his or her resident assistant has been well trained to help figure out where to go for help. If not, an academic advisor may be a good starting point.
Give us a call
I can make it simple, though. If your student could use some help and doesn’t know where to turn, send him or her to the Dean of Students (319-335-1162 or email@example.com). The dean’s staff will be happy to point your student in a good direction.
I hope that everything is going great for your son or daughter. If there’s a bit of an obstacle standing between your student and success, maybe you could give a little push in the direction of help-seeking. Help-seeking is an essential skill in life, and we’ll work with you to help your student get better at it.
My three sons will soon be home to visit for winter break. I hope you’ll get a chance to see your sons and daughters soon as well. I won’t be surprised if my sons come home a bit worn out from the fall semester, and I’ll probably pamper them just a bit, at least for a few days. After that, we’ve got an attic that needs to be cleaned out!
I enjoy hearing from readers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Teri Schnelle, a graduate assistant in my office, helped educate me about barriers to help-seeking.
Published by University Communication and Marketing. ©The University of Iowa 2011. All rights reserved.