Now, I don't think a college degree is the be-all and end-all. There are many — countless! — ways to succeed in life, and in fact, that aiming for a four-year degree can sometimes be the opposite of what is best for a young person and his or her prospects. Think of the time it costs. Think of the debt.
That being said, if and when a young person does go off to college, the reason for leaving should be something positive, such as the desire to pursue a different path. But for many, the leave-taking represents an inability to cope with college life and independence, write William Stixrud and Ned Johnson, who are also the authors of "The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives":
"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."
Most crushingly, they add, "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."
Now, I don't blame parents for giving their kids less and less freedom. In a society almost obsessed with childhood danger, it is increasingly rare — and 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 give kids more and more independence and responsibility are seen as unacceptable risks. The trade-off — raising anxious kids with no street smarts — does not figure into the equation.
Yet, as Stixrud and Johnson note, "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."
The alternative is to join a community that does allow children to learn these lessons. That's why I recommend joining a nonprofit I co-founded to help make it easy and legal to give kids some freedom. It's called Let Grow, and membership is free. Join and you'll be able to find other Let Grow families who want to give their kids some freedom.
I must also recommend joining our Facebook page, "No More Helicopter Parenting" (a name we chose for search engine reasons). There, parents can ask questions of one another, such as, "How do you get your kid to WANT to play outside?"
Finally, I also recommend asking your schools to do the Let Grow Project (whereby one night's homework is to "go home and do something by yourself") and start the Let Grow Play Club (schools stay open for free play from 3 to 6, with an adult on the premises but not organizing the games or solving the spats).
Society seems determined to cripple young people by making overprotection the norm. It's time to fight back. Young people need a chance to spread their wings before they leave the nest.