For some of us, our kids are adults as soon as they leave our house to live elsewhere. We expect them to be able to manage money and relationships with their peers--to say nothing of us. If they're commuting to college and using our home as a base, we may consider them to be almost grown up. And if they move back home after a stint away at college, we have great expectations that they are adults now--they can vote; they can legally order a drink--even if they may be temporarily dependent on us financially.
Is it as simple as that? The issues of when a child becomes an adult is at the heart of a debate in psychological circles and behind the emergence of the concept of "emerging adulthood" to describe the half dozen or so post-adolescent years. There's a lively discussion about it at this New York Times site.
The discussion includes the role we play in setting our children on the path to adulthood. The professional addressing it is Barbara Hofer, a professor of psychology at Middlebury College and co-author, with Abigail Sullivan Moore, of "The iConnected Parent: Staying Close to Your Kids in College (and Beyond) While Letting Them Grow Up."
Turns out, some of us are doing our darnedest to keep our young adult children 'kids'--that is, youngsters who are dependent on us for more than financial support. "As a college professor who studies adolescents and emerging adults," Hofer writes, "I am particularly concerned that college students are not getting the opportunities they need to grow into autonomous, healthily connected adults when parents are still hyper-involved in their lives."
The Hofer-Moore research suggests that college kids are not being encouraged to make their own choices and decisions--to, in fact, make mistakes and figure out how to recover from them. Instead, Hofer writes that she sees parents hovering and helicoptering. "Parents who are using technology (calls, Skype,texting, e-mail, Facebook, etc.) to micromanage lives from afar may be thwarting the timely passage to adulthood." How bad is it? Hofer says one in five students in her study report parents are editing and proofing their papers. Her advice: "College parents can help with the transition by serving as a sounding board rather than being directive, by steering their college-age kids to campus resources for help, by considering long-range goals rather than short-term ones and by giving their “kids” space to grow up."
Back in the day--when my children were college students--Paterfamilias and I couldn't have edited or proofed, even if we wanted to. I hate to date myself, but my children left for college armed with typewriters--tho they did end up with computers by the time they graduated. The Internet wasn't around, to say nothing of WiFi. Not even FedEx. So there's no way we could have been so hands-on or hovering.
The new technologies keep us in touch with our grown children in many wonderful ways--don't get me started on Skype as a wondrous way to visit a grown child or grandchild who lives far away--but we can also take too much advantage of it. Just because we have an iPad doesn't mean we have to use it to keep up-to-the-minute (literally) tabs on our emerging adults. Let them try and fail and pick themselves up and try again. That doesn't mean we have to turn into techno-phobes. They can still text us all about it.
It may be that the fault, to update a Shakespearean line, is not in our iPads but in ourselves, that we are too tied to the idea of our children as dependents.