This was the weekend of holiday parties. It was great to get together with our friends and visit with their older kids who are back for the holiday break from college. It was really interesting to hear the different experiences that each child has been having and mostly how happy they all are. However, there was one teen that had a very different story to tell. She is going to a college about 1 hour away, so we’ve been able to visit with her briefly throughout her first quarter and have noted that she was having a seriously difficult time adjusting to being on her own. Now, in this relaxed holiday atmosphere, she opened up about it and spent the night explaining to all of us adults how miserable she is because of all the studying, loud parties and general loneliness she was feeling. She hasn’t been making many friends and was begging her parents to let her come back home and go to the local JC for a while. Her parents in return are completely fed up with her request and ongoing negativity, and feel like she’s old enough to face the real world instead of coming back into the safe bubble of home. Listening to all of this made us talk about why some kids thrive when they are away from their parents and other’s don’t. Although many of us are guilty as parents of coddling our children and doing our best to make their lives as stress-free and easy as possible, we also hope that we are raising them to become independent thinkers, take responsibility and face the challenges of everyday life. We could see the worry on some of our friend’s faces about what mistakes they are making in this regard.
Research shows that our parenting style has a significant impact on our children’s ability to take responsibility for their actions and eventual independence. It’s a process that starts at birth and continues into adulthood. Although we might want our kids to stay with us forever, we know that the ultimate goal is to see them able to successfully navigate the real world on their own. Parents who are overly controlling and manage their child’s every move, tend to raise kids that are unsure of their own choices. These are the kids whose parents choose what they will wear each day, create a sense of insecurity by texting them every hour asking how they are doing, and just don’t give them any freedom to make their own decisions. Then when they get out in the real world, they haven’t had the life experiences they need to help them stand up to a noisy roommate or figure out how to manage their time to allow for studying as well as downtime.
In contrast, parents can provide support and guidance to become an independent and responsible adult by giving their kids the opportunity to make age-appropriate choices and by allowing them to experience the consequences of the choice. For example, you can be the parent who nags your child to wear a jacket on cold days or even drives to school to drop it off, but one way to get the child to take responsibility for staying warm is to let them experience a day of discomfort from the cold because they chose to not dress warmly enough. Let them realize the consequences of their behavior instead of always making their world a perfect place.
So, be sure to establish expectations and set limits but then give them independence to use their own judgment in every stage of childhood. Letting them make and learn from their mistakes will help them to gain self-confidence to trust their own decision-making skills and take responsibility for their own happiness.