College: Path to Adulthood?

“We treat our kids like adults when they’re children, and we infantilize them when they’re 18 years old.”  –Jean Twenge (The Atlantic, July/August 2011)

We routinely hear parents share concerns as their grown children are preparing to leave for college that laundry and food and budgeting–basics of managing life–won’t be done, nor learned.  (Rarely, do parents’ question their child’s academic ability to manage assignments and learn.)   The college admissions process (and possibly childhood) to that point has been mainly focused on personal happiness and inherent academic interests–founded on the idea that children can.   Now, that college move in day has arrived, and children have the chance to prove they can, the consequences of years of parents telling kids that their only job is to study and get good grades, while parents take care of dinners and packing lunches and doing laundry and paying for every activity, may be uncertainty.

Which is normal.

Parents react to these uncertainties in a variety of ways.  Yet, as colleges open for another school year and many prepare elaborate ceremonies to escort parents off-campus at the end of move-in day shows that parents who want to “hang around and make sure” in their uncertainty are not alone.

After move in day, parents may continue to find ways to monitor their children.  Colleges ask students to waive access to their registration and billing accounts to their parents (given that they’re legal adults); access which many parents argue they need, in order to pay bills.  (Many tell us they also secretly check grades and registration for classes.)  Facetime, Facebook, Skype, texting and email can also help parents keep in touch or at least monitor from afar.  Today’s college students can’t use the excuses,  “my roommate didn’t give me the message” or “long distance charges are too expensive.”

And, children may also find cutting the apron strings difficult, too.  Parents  have shared that their daughter texts from Los Angeles regularly to say she’s hungry, although the 400 mile distance from Sacramento prevents them from bringing her lunch.   Other parents have told us that their college children will email or Google Doc current essays and papers for editing advice.

Prolonging childhood or adolescence may not be a new phenomenon.   Yet, as more college graduates move home for economic reasons, is the relationship between parent and child changing?