Breaking Away: Is the College Transition Harder for Parents or Students?
By Joanie Connell
College is a transition period between living at home and living independently. At college, emerging adults tend to still be dependent on their parents financially, but the idea is for them to start to figure out how to live on their own. They have to manage their schedules, get to and from classes, eat either in the dining facilities or prepare meals on their own, and figure out how to navigate life without their parents at hand.
Millennials have been preparing their college applications (or their parents have been) since they were toddlers. They are more educated, coached, tutored, and accomplished than any previous generation. You would think that would make them even better prepared for college, but that is not necessarily so. Their over preparedness is missing a key ingredient: independence.
Helicopter parents have stunted many a college student from learning independence. A faculty member at one of the University of California campuses said they have to physically separate the parents from their children at freshman orientation weekend. They have to set up separate activities for the parents so the students can go register on their own. He says it does not work, though, because of cell phones. Students stand at registration and text their parents, asking questions such as “Should I sign up for calculus at 8 a.m. or 9 a.m.?” Parents stand around at their activities texting their children “Make sure to sign up for Professor Putnam. She has more Nobel prizes than Professor Pinkham.”
An administrator at another University of California campus said they have requests from parents to move into the dorms with their children. Need I say more?
Letting go is hard. We worry so much about the children, but is that what is really holding us up? What is letting go really about? It is about letting go of control. It is taking away our power to influence a situation. It is relying on someone else—trusting someone else—to take care of the situation. Feeling powerless does not feel good. Trusting does. Trusting someone else to take care of a situation empowers you to focus on something else.
There must be several other things that warrant your attention right now: other children, earning enough to pay the college bills, a loving spouse, and maybe, just maybe, yourself. Letting go is hard, but trusting your college student to work it out and being there if she or he needs help is okay. And it is a beautiful thing to watch your child grow into an adult. For more on this, read my new book, Flying without a Helicopter.
Joanie B. Connell, Ph.D., is a talent management expert and career coach for people across job levels, ages, and industries. She works with companies to attract, develop, and retain top talent and she works with individuals to improve their success and happiness in their careers. Learn more about Joanie and her new book, Flying without a Helicopter online at flyingwithout.com.