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How to Respond When Things Get HardJennifer Sullivan
There is some part of me that has wanted to be an adult all my life. If not every eighteen-year-old has felt this way, they are likely experiencing it now.
I anticipated the summer before freshman year would be trying, as should all parents and students — students are neither children nor full adults and tensions, predictably, run high. When it comes to looking toward the future, parents and students often don’t have aligning perceptions. A point of contention can be the discrepancy between a student’s confidence in themselves and a parent’s fears for them. I can speak to this as can, I’m sure, most people my age: we are striving to prove our worthiness of independence while our parents may hesitate to let us go.
While perfect accord might not be possible, there are ways to find equilibrium. One of the most important things a parent can do for their student is learn how to trust. When someone my age is in transit between childhood and adulthood, it’s essential that parents let us learn how to make self-sufficient decisions and be held accountable for them, without trying to preemptively mitigate. I see it as healthy for my parents to step back and let me take on responsibility, and it’s also what helps me feel more ready for college, even with something as small as being trusted simply to sign the university honor code like I’m supposed to.
This summer my pre-college malaise is worst when I feel skepticism from my parents, and the times when I feel most supported are when they acknowledge and trust my capabilities. My parents’ worries aren’t unrealistic — for example, they worried I wasn’t committed enough to college applications when I didn’t take an SAT prep course junior year in high school, and this summer they’ve pushed me to find a job, worried that left to my own devices I’d waste all my time. I then feel compelled to dispel their doubts, but find I have no evidence for my case other than my own self-confidence, a cycle which is endlessly frustrating.
I feel best and most ready for college when I can tell that my parents see me as mature and capable.
I went to a new volunteer job a half hour away last week which my parents knew little about, but they didn’t warn me to be careful on the highway and they didn’t fact-check my information about the job. Because of this, I walked in to meet the director like the adult I hoped she would see me as.
Another way to alleviate tension is for parents to remember the rather good judgment many students have exhibited all through the years. For me, responsible conduct is a given, and I expect this won’t change even when I’m not living at home. But I often feel I have to remind my parents of my responsible nature, high grades and good resumé. I didn’t get into trouble much growing up — I can remember each rare, mortifying instance of being scolded. College looms large, and sometimes it seems my parents worry — or assume — I’ll let these good trends take a dive. I recently spent several hours at the library working on a writing project and when I got home, my mom flatly asked me whether I really had been at the library. I was stunned. I’ve never lied to my parents about my whereabouts and they’ve never questioned it before. I forgave her quickly, understanding that it’s tough for the eldest child to move away, and resisted the temptation to mention my solid rule-following record. I’ve spent all my school years practicing good social skills and study habits and responsible conduct, and my values are ingrained in me. I’m not going to suddenly forget these things and in all likelihood neither will my classmates. Though plenty of college students make poor choices, there are also plenty that hold to their good judgment. It is important to remember this as college approaches — the good qualities instilled in us by parents and teachers and mentors won’t be abruptly abandoned.
Lastly, we should all acknowledge the temporary nature of this in-between summer. I mentioned this to my mom the other day when she was rather displeased that I was a perfect illustration of summer laziness. If I’m not quite sure what to do with myself during this waiting phase, I do know that the time is fleeting. And though I will continue to attempt to justify my self-confidence to my parents and they will continue to be not fully convinced, the best way to find balance is to trust. My long-coveted adulthood is fast approaching. My parents can’t be sure I will always make wise decisions, but they can be sure that each decision will make me wiser.
Ellie, the oldest of three sisters, is a recent graduate of Boulder High School. She will attend University of Denver in the fall studying Public Policy, and also hopes to continue to pursue her interest in writing and literature.
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