The Big Brain Issue of Sending Kids To College at 18

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Mental health issues among college students are on the rise, and often times these problems have roots in the parenting techniques applied during upbringing. Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen highlight some of the issues a parent faces when trying to adequately prepare their son or daughter for their eventual path to independence, including overprotection, supervision, culture shock, being in-touch with the current culture, and the role that the rate of brain development plays.


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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: I'm Tana Amen. Here, we teach you how to win the fight for your brain to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information, visit Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way podcast.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome everyone. We love the testimonials, so please keep them coming. This is from Kathy. "So glad I found you. My son had brain cancer four years ago and is doing great today and just got married. We're constantly looking for information, new ideas, and recipes. Thank you so much."

Tana Amen: That's awesome.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, that's why we're here. We're here to help you have a better brain and a better life, to teach you. It's a war. I mean, in our society it's a war. Everywhere you go someone is trying to shove bad food down your throat that will kill you early, addict you to a gadget, pour this god-awful news into your head repeatedly. I know the president has different names for CNN. I've always called it the Crisis News Network, because they highlight whatever terrible thing is happening in the world, and it's to frighten you to get you to continue to come back. There are consequences to this war. There's actually, they're studied.

Tana Amen: Yeah, this is really scary and sad. You think college age, that time in your life should be the most exciting time in your life. You're finishing college, you're starting a career, you're getting married. New study shows that mental health problems are rising. This was on NBC News actually, and it showed that, well, you already know this. More than 75% of all mental health conditions begin before the age of 24. I actually did not know that. I found that really surprising.

That college age, I thought this was really interesting. This actually sort of makes sense when you think about it from this perspective. You think about it as this exciting time in life, but being away from home for the first time, access to alcohol and drugs, the rigorous demands of academic life all lead to anxiety and depression. I've heard you say numerous times that kids leave home too early, which I always thought was kind of a crazy thing to say. I'm like, "No, it's great, let them go. Get them out. Send them to college. It's exciting for them and for you." Right? Maybe that's not right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Except that the brain is not finished developing until you're 25 in girls, and more likely 28 in boys. Based on our imaging work we've seen the brain is undergoing wild development, especially in the front part of the brain during that time. Less supervision, more bad food, more stress, less sleep, more alcohol, more drugs, it's the prescription for disaster. What I've often seen is that kids are doing okay, not great, but okay, so their parents are sort of glad to see them go because it's less stress at home. They go away to school and they have their first psychotic break or they have their first episode of major depression, or they try to kill themselves. It's just heartbreaking.

This study says in the last couple of years it's actually getting worse, that mental health issues are accelerating. It's part of the whole Brain Warrior's Way issue. That, because of how we eat in our society and the habits in our society and the addictions to gadgets and porn and so on, is kids are having ... Let me tell you this other statistic you may not know. On average, it's 11 years from the time a child first has their mental health symptoms; anxiety, depression, focus problems, impulse control issues, it's 11 years before they see ...

Tana Amen: Oh, that's really scary.

Dr. Daniel Amen: A professional for the first time, it's 11 years. Children suffer for a decade or longer, and when they go away to school and you rip that social support out, because the mean girls just don't go away in high school. They're there in college.

Tana Amen: No, bullying doesn't end, right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The bullying is there in college. Just think about hazing in colleges. Professors who, quite frankly don't care if you don't turn in your homework. Right? I mean, they're just happy to flunk you.

Tana Amen: They're not going to support you. I thought this was really interesting. Another point that they make is, one of the contributors, what's contributing to it. This generation has grown up with instant access via the internet to everything. This has lead to challenges with frustration tolerance and delaying gratification. Now, I know that to be true because we have a 13 year old at home who, we're very, very close, we're very open, we're very honest about things. Yeah, I think I'm one of the parents who knows about what's really going on, and I have to tell you, most of the parents I know don't know what's going on with their kids.

Most of the parents I know don't actually really realize that almost all the kids have seen porn, like on their phones at school regularly. It's a regular occurrence, that they're sending around. The new thing is, they're called nudies. It's not a thing that happens occasionally to someone and it ruins their social life. It's like, a common occurrence that makes kids popular now to send nude photos and send them around on SnapChat. Okay? You don't put your face in it, I guess, but you put just enough of something of yourself that people know who it is. This isn't like, an occasional thing. This is happening more and more regularly. We're very close to our daughter.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Didn't Chloe say it was like, 30%?

Tana Amen: Yeah, of people that she knows at the local high school, at the public high school. She has chosen to really not go to that school for a reason. It's interesting how many parents don't actually know these things. What I find fascinating is that a lot of the kids who, their parents think are the good kids, like, they're engaging in this stuff. They're engaging in the vaping and the smoking pot and the photos going around, and all of these things that are happening. I see my daughter's SnapChat, we look at it regularly, and she's got her friends, you know, passed out in a pizza box from drinking too much alcohol at a party. I'm like, "What?" Like, these are the kids in high school. They're not people she hangs out with, but she knows them and they're going to parties and they're doing this stuff. I'm grateful ...

Dr. Daniel Amen: She just graduated from 8th grade.

Tana Amen: 8th grade. I'm just grateful that I have one of those kids who doesn't like getting in trouble. She doesn't want to be a part of that scene. She chose to be homeschooled because she just didn't like it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I'm going to give some very controversial advice. I've thought about this a lot over the last 35 years, because I'm also a child psychiatrist. I've seen many, many troubled kids. Is, I actually don't think parents should send kids away when they're 18. The brain is not finished developing until they're 25. It's critically important time, and if your child, your teen's been struggling; they tend to isolate themselves, they can be pretty irritable or anxious, have social problems, that I'm just not a fan of sending them away to another state or another country, because I've had that happen. I'm a fan of keeping them close until they're in, you know, until they're 20 or 22 depending on their level of maturity. I'm actually a fan of community colleges. People go, "How can you do anything?" Well, when I got out of the military I went to Orange Coast College which is a community college. I hang in their Hall of Fame, which is cool.

Tana Amen: I know, I find that interesting. Neither you or I were a 4.0 in high school. Right? We had to work really hard. I think work ethic wins hands down over just this whole natural ...

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right, never tell a kid they're smart. Always tell them they work hard.

Tana Amen: Right. Praise them for the work ethic.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Praise them for working hard. It's okay to supervise them just a little bit longer. If you have a child that has ADD, and I've told many, many parents this. I said, "The research shows they're three to five years behind, they're emotionally behind their chronological age." If they're 18, they may only be emotionally 13 or 15. You'd never send a 13 or a 15 year old away from home. Never tell them that. I mean, that will just hurt their feelings. It won't be helpful at all. You just want to supervise them longer. One of my ADD daughters, she didn't get her driver's license until she was nearly 18, because I knew she was going to kill somebody. I knew it.

Tana Amen: She wasn't thrilled about it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: But it was okay, right?

Tana Amen: She knew it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It was okay.

Tana Amen: One thing that I have actually gotten criticized a little bit for, which I think is really interesting because we have a really good kid. I mean, like an exceptional kid. Sometimes I look in the mirror and I'm like, "What?" I pray about it and I'm like, "How did I end up with this kid? She's pretty amazing." I really do think this is one of the reasons. I've never seen it as my job to over-protect her, which I see a lot where we live. To over-shelter, over-protect.

Then all of a sudden they go away to middle school, and it's like, this culture shock. They've been over-nurtured, over-protected, over-coddled, and then we throw them to the wolves all of a sudden. At least where we live, middle school is like this big culture shock from what they had when they were in elementary school. I've always seen it as my job not to shelter my daughter from what she's going to experience in life, but to prepare her for it. We're very, very open with her, and I spend a lot of time preparing her, to the point of shocking her a little bit, about what she's going to encounter. I'm not joking. When she ...

Dr. Daniel Amen: Let's go with prepare.

Tana Amen: But sometimes it's a little shocking. I don't want her to be surprised. I would rather her learn it from us than to go to school or go out somewhere and hear it from someone else. You know? I've always told her the truth.

Dr. Daniel Amen: See, I have a different spin on this. The secret to why Chole is doing so well. For years, you read to her every night.

Tana Amen: Well, that's part of it. That's one piece.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I wrote a book once called Healing the Hardware of the Soul. In that book there is a chapter on how to make your child a democrat or republican or anything you want. If you want your child to pick your values, you have to spend time with them. You have to build a positive relationship with them.

Tana Amen: Sure, the time is no question.

Dr. Daniel Amen: which is what we, but you know, more you, have done ever since she was a baby.

Tana Amen: Right, but at the same time, by doing that, preparing her and telling her the truth even when the truth is a little weird and uncomfortable to talk about, she then trusts me. Right? Then she ...

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, I'm a psychiatrist so we're always talking about weird stuff.

Tana Amen: Right. She goes to school and she realizes she's one of the few kids who's actually prepared. Who's like, "Huh, I already knew this was coming." She's totally not shocked by it. She's not shocked by it, so if you prepare them the right way and don't ...

Dr. Daniel Amen: Don't act like you were perfect.

Tana Amen: Definitely not. They know you're lying, by the way. One of two things happens when you act like you were perfect. Either maybe you didn't encounter or engage in those things, so one of two things happens. They know you're lying or they think you've got no clue about the current world the way it is, and so they're not going to talk to you. That's not the goal.

Dr. Daniel Amen: You don't listen, which is such an important factor.

Tana Amen: Got to listen. I think that's part of why ...

Dr. Daniel Amen: Mental illness in children is not the parent's fault.

Tana Amen: No.

Dr. Daniel Amen: That's important. I mean obviously, if you're an alcoholic and you contribute to chronic stress in their lives, you're playing a part. I mean, let's be honest about this. It's critical to get them the help they need and teach them to fall in love with their brain. I mean, we want you to be a brain warrior, and we want you to create brain warriors in your family, because it's one of the best protections and treatment about mental health problems. When I was in Massachusetts speaking to the high school kids last week, I signed books literally for six hours straight.

Tana Amen: I know, I was there.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It was crazy. They all came up to me, and they said the one thing I said that stood out to them most was that I started with, "No one wants to see a psychiatrist. No one wants to be labeled as crazy, defective, or abnormal, but everybody wants a better brain."

Tana Amen: Yes.

Dr. Daniel Amen: "What if mental health was really brain health?" Hundreds of times that night and the next day, they said, "That's what sticks with me. I want to be a researcher to prove that to be true," so by taking care of their brains, protecting their brains from injuries, from toxins, from bad food, you're actually helping to protect their mental health.

Tana Amen: To end this I want to just go back to that one thing. If you keep the communication open, you've got to have this open communication with your child, or even your college age kids, if you want them to be safe going away when they do go away. They've got to know they can reach out for help. I think that's the hardest thing, is they just don't want, to your point, to be defective, so they don't reach out for help.

Dr. Daniel Amen: No, and when you get depressed you isolate yourself, and then your thoughts can get pretty dark.

Tana Amen: Right, so prepare them. Prepare them and tell them what to look for.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Be connected, and don't send them away too soon. You're listening to The Brain Warrior's Way. Stay with us.

Tana Amen: Thank you for listening to The Brain Warrior's Way podcast. We have a special gift for you. It's an opportunity to win an evaluation at the Amen Clinics. All you have to do is subscribe to this podcast, leave a review, and rate us on iTunes.

Dr. Daniel Amen: To learn more about Amen Clinics and the work we do, go to You can also learn about our nutraceutical products at Thanks for listening.