For Parents & Kids Who’ve Left for College

It’s important for kids to have enough space to grow iStock_000010488944XSmallinto greater independence. Like my work, parents are supposed to do themselves out of the job. With all of our technology it is tempting to crowd kids with the parent’s need for connection. This is similar to spanking because spanking is usually about the parent’s frustration. Parents have to sacrifice their needing to know and trade it in for a willingness to not know.

One idea that parents can soothe themselves with is to remember that kids need to learn and grow by making mistakes. Mistakes are crucial to everyone growing up. You do not want to erase the experience of mistakes for your children (or if you do remember the road to hell is paved with good intentions). Creating a life without consequences leaves children exposed to greater danger and a false sense of security. The movie thriller The Deep End contains exactly this lesson. Tilda Swinton plays a mom who goes to absurd lengths to protect her son from criminal charges. What’s scary about the end of the movie is that he leaves for collegeimages without any idea of the poor choices he made that lead to extreme danger.

Letting go of our children is part of the idea in having them. Letting go requires greater respect than many parents are willing to give. Think back to your own mistakes made during college years……….there was a lot of learning involved. Didn’t you love the freedom? Could any adult in your life have inserted themselves into your choices to keep you safe? probably not.

I listen to kids struggle with the consequences of poor choices. The burden of their pain and the weight of it is exhausting. Could anybody have stopped them and convinced them to have better judgement? probably not. Where they were very superficial prior to their mistake I watch them learn, experience regret and gain substance and character.

#1.  The most important thing any of us can do as parents, is to keep the lines of communication open. Are you the kind of parent who is open to hearing things you don’t want to hear?

#2.  Teach kids to stall difficult choices.

#3.  Help kids to understand how important the brain is to development. The prefrontal lobe where good judgement resides does not even get wired chemically until the age of 25.

#4.  Accept that there is risk in life for everyone and it is not possible to protect your children. Being a hovering helicopter parent can squash the crucial first choices of independence and differentiation.

#5.  Value the idea that children need to explore the world. All too often kids are entertained instead of going off to make their own discoveries. I think that growing up in the 1950’s wasn’t dangerous because of the freedom but because of the secrets and unspoken ongoing tragedies.

I joined Girl Scouts in ninth grade in 1966, Salty was our leader and a completely active alcoholic; we still learned to sail a 3 masted schooner and earned all the money ourselves. I can still hear the ice cubes clinking….We’ve gone from one extreme to the other: benign neglect to hyper vigilance. How about some of the “in between”? Understand that trying to protect young adult children from hurt and disappointment only leads to false expectations. Hardship will be a part of everyone’s life and kids benefit from a bit of practice. Accept you will not get a reply to every email or phone call. Let go and reduce your own false expectations. Consider the idea that worrying about your grown children may be a way of deflecting the responsibility for solving the new emptiness in your own life.

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