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Encourage Teen Independence To Prepare Them For College

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Read Time: 3 minutes

“Thirty percent of freshmen won’t return for their sophomore year,” reports a piece in The New York Times, “and the wheels can start to fall off as early as Thanksgiving. What can parents do?” We feel the answer is at least partly to build stronger kid and teen independence.

At Let Grow, we do not think a college degree is the be all and end all. We believe there are countless ways to succeed in life. In fact, aiming for a 4-year degree can sometimes be the opposite of what is best for a young person and their prospects. If and when a young person goes off to college, the reason for leaving should be something positive, like the desire to pursue a different path.

College students get more than they bargained for.

For many, the leave-taking represents an inability to cope with college life and independence. William Stixrud and Ned Johnson, the authors of “The Self-Driven Child” agree:

As we see it, there are two critical issues at hand. First, college life is a highly dysregulated environment with inconsistent sleep patterns and diets, little structure, and an abundance of binge-drinking, pot-smoking, and abuse of stimulants like Adderall.

Second, students haven’t been given control of their own lives until way too late. You wouldn’t tell a kid to merge onto the freeway the first time he gets behind the wheel of a car, and yet that’s essentially what we do in expecting students to go from parental control to near-total freedom.

Let Grow does not blame parents for giving their kids less and less freedom. In a society almost obsessed with childhood danger, it is increasingly rare— sometimes illegal—for parents to let their kids play outside on their own, come home with a latchkey, wait briefly in the car, or even trick or treat without a security detail. Instead, these age-old ways to encourage kid and teen independence and responsibility are seen as unacceptable risks. The trade-off— anxious kids with no street smarts—does not figure into the equation.

Prepare them to be independent from the start.

Young people need a chance to spread their wings before they leave the nest. It takes time, practice and some failure to learn how to run a life. And you don’t want your child to learn these lessons in an environment that is as toxic as it is expensive. Instead, join a community that does allow children to learn these lessons, like Let Grow. Our Facebook Support Group is a place for like-minded parents to chat, share, and ask for advice.

Encourage your local schools to build kid and teen independence by participating in the Let Grow Project. This popular program invites kids to try doing one new thing on their own and sharing their experience. Your school might also want to try the Let Grow Play Club. Participating school playgrounds stay open for free play after school lets out. Adults supervise, but don’t organize games or get involved in spats.

Take steps now to give your kids the confidence they’ll need to succeed when they’re out on their own, whether that’s college or not. They’ll be grateful, we promise.

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