By Bevone Ritchie, M.S.
By now, most applications for college and other post-secondary opportunities have been sent and a future away from home for some of our kids beckons in the summer or fall. Adulthood is at the doorstep for those young adults in training, whether they are bound for college or not. Always a rite of passage, the transition is even more complicated these days as we experience new societal realities, while the characteristics and personalities of our older children continually evolve.
Building independence in them can hardly be done in a rush. A measured approach with additional responsibility and accountability doled out over time and in accordance with how children react to their increased freedom is the ideal scenario. But, as any parent knows, actual parenting seldom occurs in a vacuum or in lockstep with any definitive plan. Allowing them to be their adult self is not just a transition for them, but for you as a parent as well.
Here are six ways to help prep you and them for adult independence in college and elsewhere:
FIRST THINGS FIRST: SAFETY AND FINANCES
Learning to navigate life as an adult can be overwhelming to even think about, but a good start is with safety and finances. Familiarizing your older children with their campus, dorms (or new neighborhoods), emergency protocols, public safety practices and personnel can start with having them doing research online. Don’t do it for them. That goes against the notion of independence and will not truly engage them in prepping for their own future. But sit with them and talk about what they discover and provide guidance where warranted.
Managing finances is another skill they will need to learn, and fast! Hopefully, parents have instilled in their children sound financial practices, but more likely than not they may overspend initially and not plan ahead for the entire semester. Have them plan their budgets on a daily, weekly, monthly and semester basis to set them on a path toward true economic independence. Again, the process of calculating the budget, both income and expenditures, should be done by your kids themselves, otherwise the gains will be limited.
SCHEDULING FOR SUCCESS
Academic study or work challenges will take some getting used to, but so will organizing the rest of their lives - everything from making sure to eat breakfast, scheduling decompression times and gym time, and even when to do their laundry. Schedules will be crucial. Parents can help by having their children be completely responsible for their own schedules before they go away to school or move out. Forcing your child to get up every morning won’t help them if they can’t do it on their own. If they struggle with setting their own schedule at home, at least they will know what awaits them in the future and you still have time to help them by imparting the same things you do in your own life to stay on schedule.
TALK ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCES, BUT LISTEN JUST AS MUCH
Your own life and struggles when facing newfound independence can be a fountain of useful knowledge for your kids. Tell them what worked for you, but also the missteps you took, so they can avoid similar ones. Reiterate to them that they will make mistakes; there’s no getting around it. At the same time, encourage them to be open to their mistakes and learn from them, which is the quickest way toward true maturity.
Just as importantly, however, is listening to their experiences. Today’s teens and young adults are facing many situations we never had to deal with. Help guide them toward true independence by understanding what they are going through. The pandemic instilled a level of fear, doubt and uncertainty on almost all levels of their lives. Those effects will be felt for many years so listen to your teen and their concerns to be able to help minimize the damage these last two years may have done on their psyche.
DON’T BE SHOCKED BY RESISTANCE TO INDEPENDENCE
The rush to get away from our parents’ control was a great motivator for independence in many of our lives, but with our children there may not be that same zest to fly the coop. Don’t belittle their dependence on us. Comfort them and let them know that you will always be there for them, while nudging them to take steps to feel more comfortable when they are on their own. The pandemic, political unrest, climate change and other major issues have caused older youth major stress, and many have internalized these emotions. Make a point to bring these to the forefront before your college-bound kids are away.
WORK-LIFE BALANCE IS A WORK-IN-PROGRESS
It’s easy for freshmen or young adults, who are now on their own, to focus on too much study or work, or more likely, excessive fun; but less common is to achieve a balance their first time taking it on. They will likely struggle to attain the right balance, just like the rest of us, but discussing what’s working for them and what isn’t, will help them remain aware of the importance of organizing their lives while at school.
Similarly, have discussions about flexibility and dealing with unforeseen circumstances. Once upon a time, college students searched for a major that would set their career path for life. These days, being flexible with your career choice and by extension, academic areas of study, is almost a necessity with the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of the job market and life.
SET THEM ON THE RIGHT PATH WITH EXPERIENCES
While your kids are still at home, make sure to give them all the support they need ahead of their departure. That includes putting them in situations that help them interact with their peers and get needed experience for the next step in their lives. The Summer Youth Internship Program (miami.getmyinterns.org), proudly funded by The Children’s Trust, enables rising sophomores, juniors and seniors to gain experience working for real companies for part of the summer, while earning income at the same time. The Children’s Trust Youth Advisory Committee (TheChildrensTrust.org/YAC) is a leadership development program with a focus on service and advocacy. It is open to all Miami-Dade high school students and is ideal for them to help develop peer relationships like the ones they will have in college. Parents whose older children are struggling can themselves get important skills and engage with other parents at The Trust’s free Parent Club workshops, held throughout the county. The workshops address issues like how parents can assist their teenagers with good decision-making, healthy lifestyle choices, self-discipline, good routines and more. Find a workshop near you at TheChildrensTrust.org/ParentClub.
Associate Director of Programs Bevone Ritchie, M.S., oversees a wide range of parenting and youth development programs across the county for The Children’s Trust. For more information, visit TheChildrensTrust.org.