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Why Parents Should Stop Coddling Their Kids and Let Them Live Their Own Lives

I see the damage that anxious overparenting has created. So, in my home, I'm trying something different.

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I wonder if the parents so anxiously hovering, just trying to do their best, understand the twisty ways their students hide from them. Many students tell me they have fake Facebook pages, ones they use only for their parents, and “real ones” for their friends. The decision over whether to “friend” a parent is a never-ending source of antagonism. The stories of kids getting “busted” in red cup photos are far too numerous to reiterate.

As much as parents use technology to peek in on their young adult children’s lives, students also use technology to remain dependent on their parents and avoid the hard work and sacrifice of growing up. They tell me about texting their parents with requests for cash, and parents using online banking to make the transfer. One student was proud that he conducted this whole text conversation as he walked to the bar where he intended on spending the deposit. His mother texted back “done” when the transaction was complete, just as he opened the door to the bar.

Parents have a view into their children’s lives that was not possible in the past. That makes letting go virtually impossible, forgive the pun. I spoke with a mother recently who said if it were not for Twitter, she wouldn’t know if her college junior son was dead or alive. He is at Penn State, and in his freshman year, a fellow student was found in a stairwell, dead from alcohol poisoning. He had been dead for almost two days. She thinks this made her extra leery, and on the day we spoke he had been diagnosed with strep throat but hadn’t responded to any of her texts, so she found herself obsessively checking her Twitter feed, only able to relax and focus on her work when she saw he had put up a post.

I’m not immune to this, either. The other night I was wondering about the whereabouts of my own college freshman and willing myself not to text her. I picked up my phone when I heard a buzz, and lo, Hayley had checked into a restaurant on 4Square. Phew. But I am doing my best to maintain balance.

Trying to think of a new metaphor for my ideal style of parenting, I decided I want to be one of those guys on the landing strips at the airport, with the flags. I am on the ground, and my kids come see me when they need something and I direct them, but they are still operating the plane. I also decided that was a lot of words and I needed to find out what those people in the bright jumpsuits are called. After much unproductive googling, I contacted my air traffic controller cousin and this is what he wrote back:

“That position is called a ‘Ramp Agent.’ They do everything from guiding the plane into its gate, loading and unloading bags, cleaning the inside of the cabin, and just about anything else needed to get a plane ‘turned around’ and ready for its next flight.”

Perfect.

The code I have developed with my own daughter is this: If I haven’t heard from her in a few days, or if I just have an ache for her, I will send her a text that says, “Say ‘hi.’” She will respond with those two letters and it is astounding, really, how much better I feel.

I think we’re all more afraid in 2012, and that technology can both relieve and feed those fears. I’m not accusing anyone of being a bad parent. The only reason we panic when we haven’t heard from our child for three days is because we can, and often do, hear from him or her nearly constantly. But learning to respect boundaries is part of this process, and we have to do it, even when technology has erased the lines. This is the same moderation and balance we want our kids to learn as they navigate the bumpy freedoms of adulthood. Just because you have access to all the alcohol you can drink doesn’t mean you should. Just because you can shut off your alarm and roll over without any immediate ramifications doesn’t mean you should.

 
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