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How to prevent your child from being sucked into the “I’m independent! I can do whatever I want!” phase

By Jen Danowitz
This article was written for CollegeTipsForParents.org by Jen, who is a junior majoring in English and Communications, and is attending school in Connecticut. She plays ice hockey, figure skates and enjoys making her friends laugh! She provides some great insights for college parents, based on her experiences as a college student.

Carpet down, fridge on, beds bunked, internet wired – and then it was time for hugs and goodbyes. As the door shut softly behind them, I breathed out a satisfied smile. I was free! I had the world to explore, and nobody could tell me otherwise. Coming from a very interdependent family, the first few months of school became an outlet to break loose. I was responsible only to the rules of myself, and this was an absolutely thrilling experience.

Albeit thrilling, the experience came to a scary halt when it became too “free.” This is a pattern many college freshmen fall into. As soon as they are free from the fear of parental disapproval, they begin to oblige solely to their own rules. This leads only to future difficulties for the individual student – be it excessive partying, personal isolation, accidental drug consumption, falling grades, legal trouble, overconfidence, etc.

There are many ways to prevent your child from slipping into this feeling of unconditional independence. Having an open channel of communication with your child is a great beginning. However, it is important to start this communication well before your child reaches college. Once your child is essentially living on their own, he or she does not want to suddenly develop a communicative relationship with their parents. This open means of discussion must begin years prior to college. It is important for the child to feel like he or she can come to you, the parents, with any topic, and it is equally important for the child to not be afraid of potential repercussions for bringing up certain subjects. Once your child feels insecure about sharing information with you, the channel of communication has failed. Keeping information from one another is as bad as lying. Hiding things from one another creates a feeling of distrust between both the parents and their children, which often will lead to tension and arguments.

The child, if this open communication fails, often lives a sort of ‘double life.’ They live one way in front of their parents (the way they think is acceptable to their parents) and an entirely different way when on their own. Thus, when the child gets to college, he or she has no problem completely avoiding any parental involvement in their life. When away at college, there is no reason to share with one’s parents what is really going on in one’s life, and as a result students often slip into this dangerous overly-independent phase. Also, once in college one faces essentially no immediate repercussions for his or her actions. Consequently, the student operates completely independently with no support network and with the belief that they are responsible to merely their own rules. This only leads to tragedy – for both the child, and also for the parents who discover their child’s actual life from an inevitable disaster.

Therefore, be open and supportive of your child well before they head off on their own! Discuss everything with your child, but do not over discuss any topic. Your child wants your support, but does not want to feel smothered. They will want to feel like they are the ones making the decisions, so offer firm suggestions, but do not present wisdom in ultimatum form. Developing close familial relationships is very important; however, do not become so interdependent that your child feels the need to desperately break away. This will only lead to a narrow channel of communication, as the child will attempt to keep information from his or her family in an effort to maintain independence.

After your child has begun his or her first college semester, it is important that he or she finds and identifies with a support group of students with similar interests. Creating a network of friends prevents one from slipping into an entirely singular route. Encourage your child to pursue something they love, and to check out the clubs his or her college offers. Becoming involved in a positive campus life will also prevent your child from slipping into activities that will inhibit his or her purpose for being at school – to learn. Involvement in a college sponsored activity will also give you something interesting to discuss with your child, further promoting that important outlet of open communication.

Refraining from basic trite discussions is also important to keep your child from slipping into this independent perception.
“How was your day?” / “Good.”
“What did you do today?” / “Nothing.”

This does not work. Encourage discussions about anything that interests your child. You will learn a lot, both directly and indirectly, about your child and your child’s life if you pursue such conversations. Also, use such times to remind your child of his or her overall goals. Often, what the parent wants for their child is very similar to what the child would also like. Asking your child to develop goals and routinely checking in on their progress keeps your child focused and less likely to break into a pattern of “doing whatever.” Remind your child to bear in mind who they ultimately want to become, which will prevent him or her from falling astray.

Ultimately, your children need you – no matter how old they get. Support and encourage your college bound young adult, and remember that we all make mistakes. You too were once eighteen and you also made some less-than-wise decisions. Your child will respond more positively to negative situations if they have the assurance that their parents are there to help. Being open minded will give your child the confidence that they can bring any topic to the table. Enjoy this new level of your child’s development! Participate! Don’t miss out on this exciting time for both you and your child.

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