Separation Anxiety?

Being the parent of an adult.

When does the transition begin? Is it in kindergarten when parents drop their children off to school for the first time? Or does it begin when child gets his or her first heart break? Does it begin when children enter high school for the first time or when the family takes the first college visit? When does the realization occur for both parents and students that the parent is becoming the parent of an adult and not a child? When does the teenage rebellion turn into mature decision making and when are parents ready for their child to make decisions on their own?

I could think back to my own family, but leaving home at fifteen, I think my situation leaves me as an anomaly. Twelve years ago, I did not notice this happening at my Orientation or at any welcome session I attended. My dad attended one yield event with me. I feel like there has been a shift in the short time from my high school days to me working as a high school counselor. There seem to be many more parent advocates, parents are speaking up more often on behalf of their children, and parents are making decisions in the child’s best interest up until the student is in college. Parents want the best for their child and want to be sure their child is in no way jilted by the “system” or anyone that steps in their way. I recognize that and I get it.

After working with parents of high school children for the last five years I have noticed that fewer students have learned how to develop their “voice” when interacting with authority or in the decision-making processes. Parents and students are in constant contact and if something goes wrong at school, the parents are at their child’s side in a second. I wonder if the same interaction happened when the world had no texting or skype or when students were unable to call their parents to “save” them? With parents stepping in every time a student gets in trouble, where does the child learn how to represent themselves or any negotiation tactics?

When I worked in the college counseling office at UCLA, I even had some parents impersonate their children to make changes or to find out more information about their child’s academic record. I understand parents mean well, I am so curious as to what parents think this teaches the child? Colleges have created events and programs specifically to say good-bye to parents during Orientation, so why do parents think their child cannot make academic decisions independently?

How does a family help the child develop their voice without parents overpowering the decision making or without the child being left alone in this scary world? Does it begin when the child decides on the college of their choice?

A family in constant communication must discuss this idea of independence before the first day of college orientation. Once the student is enrolled in a college, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act prohibits parents to make educational decisions for their college aged children-even if the parents are footing the bill for college. I know it seems unfair but thanks to the feds, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

It would be wise to help the student/child find his or her own voice before moving off to college. Making the choice to take Human Geography over Environmental Science or Statistics over Calculus is a start. I had a nice conversation with a parent last year about her child making decisions while in college and the safety of large campus environments. She says, “I’ve taught my child to be street-smart, so I’m not worried when she goes off to college.” That made me so happy I had to hold back tears (I know I get emotional with all this college stuff). It is my hope that parents find the strength to let their children be their own person, fall when they have to, and get back up without unnecessarily stepping in.

Students, you need to start letting your voice be heard too. You won’t be young forever.


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