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Coming of age August 11, 2010

Posted by mareserinitatis in family, older son, societal commentary.
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There have been a few interesting comments in regard to the discussion about going to college or not. On some of the other blogs I read, the discussion has more than once come to the fact that an 18 year old is really not in a place to decide what they want out of life.

I’m not sure I can buy that one. I started my first job at 14. I moved out of my parents place at 17 1/2. I knew where I was going to college, I knew what I wanted to major in. I knew that I could support myself because I’d already had a job for 3 years.

I won’t say that any of it came out the way I planned. On the other hand, I don’t think my parents should’ve coddled me. (There are other things I think they shouldn’t have done, but coddling wasn’t a problem.) I think that at 18, one should no longer depend on their parents. Eighteen-year-olds are legally adults, and I think there’s a nasty kind of psychological damage that goes along with supporting kids excessively beyond that point. I’m not saying that parents should cut all ties, but they should be preparing their kids to support themselves and live on their own by that point. I have seen too many people end up with unhealthy co-dependent relationships with parents, and later on, other people, because appropriate boundaries were not set when they became adults.

I believe that a lot of this is because, by allowing a child to remain dependent longer, you are communicating to them that they aren’t capable of handling the responsibilities. Teenagers already have enough confusion about when to act like an adult and when to act like a kid. I don’t think this needs to be confounding any longer than necessary: once they are an adult, they need to be responsible for their life decisions. And, ideally, a parent will have been increasing their responsibility as they got older so that it’s not a sudden jolt at that point.

I’ve been thinking about this because my older son is now the same age as I was when I started working. I’m not going to force him to get a job, but I am going to tell him that if he wants something beyond lawn-mowing money, he’ll have to consider it. Likewise, I am not going to tell him he has to go to college. I am fortunate that he’s already expressed an interest, so we’re going to be having a talk soon about the realities of college financing and the importance of grades and extracurriculars for finding scholarship money. Likewise, he needs to think about the alternatives: if he’s not going to college, how is he going to support himself once he’s done with high school, where will he live, etc.

In four years, he’ll legally be an adult, and I need to both let go and make sure he’s ready to take on those responsibilities. And yes, at 18, I think he had better be prepared to make those decisions. I know this makes me sound like an old kraut because I am prone to saying things like, “When I was your age, I was taking care of this or that.” On the other hand, not letting him learn about these responsibilities now will deprive him of the opportunity to the same thing when he is my age (which, according to him, is very, VERY old).

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1. Fluxor - August 11, 2010

Similar to you, I got my first job making fries at 15 and started university away from home at 17. I majored in EE and have been working in the same field ever since. Having said that, I don’t think every kid at 18 are ready to make that decision for a variety of reasons. I certainly lucked out because when I was choosing my major, I really had no clue what to choose beside hoping it’d be something to do with math and maybe one of the hard sciences. It was my father that suggested engineering. I had no idea what engineering meant at that age. Good choice, dad!

Kids develop at different rates, have different experiences, receive different parenting, and come from different backgrounds. Why should we expect all of them to be ready to make one of the most important decisions in their lives at the arbitrary chronological age of 18?

In western society, it is typical to expect kids to fend for themselves at 18. Yet, I don’t really buy this concept wholeheartedly. For those ready to do so, great. For those not quite ready, I don’t think continued parental support is necessarily detrimental. The devil’s in the details.

There’s co-dependence and then there’s co-dependence. There’s a negative type where the dependence of the adult child on the parents is much stronger than the other way around. That’s how western society typically views an adult child that still lives at home — a leecher, a lazy bum. Then there’s positive co-dependence, a symbiosis where every member of the family contributes positively to the whole. That’s how Asian society views their family unit with the adult children at home – they expect the adult children to contribute. There’s no throwing the children overboard at legal adulthood; rather, the road to maturity is less bumpy and more gradual. In Asian culture, it is expected that the child returns to live with the parents after university schooling ends assuming it’s practical. You see this with large Indian families and you see this with Chinese adult children that live with their parents until marriage. Yet, western society typically views this as a negative.

Except those that moved out of town for work, all of my ethnically-Asian (Indian/Chinese/Vietnamese/Malaysian/Singaporean/Japanese/Korean) friends, locally born or not, continued to live with their parents after university until marriage or until well into their 30s. They seem to be as well adjusted as anyone else, holding down various leadership roles in their jobs and communities. A Vietnamese high school friend and both of her younger sisters all became lawyers and all continued to live with their parents until marriage. They wouldn’t have it any other way. They also never struggled with life when they got married and had families of their own.

My point is that if a child requires a few more years to fully stand on their feet, what’s wrong with the parents continuing to provide support assuming that support is given in a way that allows the child to continue to mature. Having an arbitrary cutoff age of 18 is just that, arbitrary.

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mareserinitatis - August 12, 2010

Several points come to mind in reading your response.

First, in many Asian families, this tends to work to the detriment of women. Men live at home and their mothers take care of them. They leave when they marry and then expect their wives to take care of them. From what I’ve seen, this is more or less maintaining a status quo of unhealthy gender role expectations. I realize there are benefits to the situation, but they are almost always for the men. I can tell you that a lot of my friends who are Asian women don’t necessarily like the situation and several have mentioned they feel their parents are being over the top…but the are too scared to stand up to them lest their parents cut them off entirely.

Second, even in the US, I am discovering that parents don’t even start thinking about their kids leaving home until they graduate high school. This leaves the kids unprepared and the parents feel like they still have to parent the child. This is why you get these ‘helicopter parents’ who are calling their teachers’ professors. I realize I may be somewhat extreme as I consider myself a ‘free-range’ parent, but I see a lot of over-protection and infantilization of kids who are way past the point of needing it. This seriously prolongs when children will start to assume responsibilities as an adult.

I also think this behavior is due more to the parents refusing to let a child grow up. The child doesn’t know better and will often just follow what the parents want, assuming it’s normal. And heck, who wants to throw away their security blanket. But it’s very often not in the best interests of the child.

Third, eighteen is indeed an arbitrary cut-off. However, it is legally established and expected. Not too long ago, it was actually expected that kids much younger assume adult responsibilities. Usually such rites of passage occurred around 13 or 14. Women would often be married off younger than that. I’m not saying we should return to that, but certainly we have to choose some point at which people become adults, and our society has chosen 18.

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Fluxor - August 12, 2010

There are no perfect one-size fits all approach to raising children. I bring up the Asian model not as a panacea, but as a counterpoint that there are alternatives that can also work. It has its own pitfalls, but it doesn’t mean that if approached correctly, it cannot work. My Vietnamese high school lawyer friend, a woman, and her two sisters are excellent examples of how things can work out great.

Society may have chosen 18 as a legal cut-off point, but parenting decisions need not follow this arbitrary cut-off point. Society has also imposed certain ways of educating children, but you seem comfortable enough bucking the system. That’s why I’m curious as to why you appear to buy into society’s arbitrary age of 18 as the point, in which you write, “one should no longer depend on their parents”. Assuming parents are doing the right things in gradually building up the child’s independence, why not let the child’s own level of maturity dictate when that cut-off point should be.

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mareserinitatis - August 19, 2010

I thought I’d responded to this already, but I guess not.

Society has also imposed certain ways of educating children, but you seem comfortable enough bucking the system.

That’s because the reason is exactly the same. A huge part of the problem with schools is the fact that they delay the ability of the child to take responsibility for him or herself.

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2. FrauTech - August 11, 2010

See I was interpreting the not wanting kids to go to college at 18 being more about them not having the maturity to decide on a college major that would likely affect the rest of their lives. Not so much that mom and dad would continue to support them, but that people thought they should work first and make the decision later.

But otherwise I’m with you and Fluxor. Went to college at 17 and knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. But like you, that’s not what I’m doing now. So I probably wasn’t ready to make those kinds of decisions. Back then it was a bit easier to get retail or part time work. Now I see the college major being more and more important. I can see how even an independent 18 year old who’s worked a few years could still not understand how hard it is to get a job and find a future and how important major is. My sisters in law talk about biology or graphic design, both fields that are by no means short of people right now. I think in some cases kids who come from 1st generation to go to a four year college are at a disadvantage because you see your parents successful without a degree and assume you’ll be that much more successful with a degree when those of us with many years in university know it doesn’t always work out like that.

I also like Fluxor’s competing descriptions for what makes someone “independent”. I mean who’s more independent, the student who moves away at 18 but is still financially supported for a few more years (whether by parents, loans or scholarship, but not work) or the kid who stays at home during college. I think it’s kind of a limitation that our society doesn’t spotlight helping your parents when you become an adult. It can be a drag if abused, but there’s a level that would be moderate and I think of benefit to families all over. Great topic by the way.

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mareserinitatis - August 12, 2010

But like you, that’s not what I’m doing now. So I probably wasn’t ready to make those kinds of decisions.

You see, my perspective is that you’ll never mature and find out what you want until you can make those decisions independently. It’s because I got to finally get out on my own and make my own mistakes that I was able to start acting like an adult and not merely responding to my parents sometimes erroneous assumptions about what was best for me. So a big part of being an adult is making decisions and changing your mind…and then learning to deal with the fall-out from it.

Just to clarify, I don’t think booting your kids out the door at 18 and taking away their key is fair. I’m hoping most parents have been allowing their children more independence as time goes along, helping them develop the confidence that they can handle life and make those decisions. Parents who haven’t done this have kids who make decisions out of fear or who never completely commit because they don’t have the confidence that they can succeed or deal with negative consequences.

I want my kids to make their down decisions when they get to be that age, and I want to feel confident in backing them up. I hope that we can sit down and they will take my advice seriously. I can’t possibly understand what’s entirely best for them, but I have a lot of experience to share, and I hope they respect that. If my kids want to go to college but want to live at home, I’m fine with that. But it has to be their decision and, if they are living with me, they need to realize that there will be ground rules. On the other hand, if they want to move out, I’ll help them with that, as long as they understand that in exchange for a series of ground rules, they’re either accepting more debt from financial aid or more immediate costs for an apartment. If the latter, then they need to be sure they can afford their new housing arrangement. But I don’t want them refusing to make the decision because they are afraid it will make me mad or because they are too scared to try.

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