University… [the transition]

In the article, the author wonders “why do we … try to go from adolescent to adult in a matter of weeks or months?”. Hello? What were those four or five undergrad years all about? Obviously, the writer thinks that university students are in an extended adolescence until the very moment of graduation.

This statement was made by MaryP in response to another blogger. While I agree with the core of what she argues, I would take her argument and run with it in a slightly different direction.

As an undergrad, I disagree with her statement. Perhaps it’s just my personal experiences, but I think the transition from adolescence to adulthood should taking place long before that. I moved off to school because I was ready to be an adult. A young, inexperienced adult, for sure, but an adult nonetheless.

The university years are meant to learn as an adult, not to transition. High school is about transitioning from adolescent to adult. Those four years, you still are at home, but hopefully are maturing both educationally and interpersonally. I like to think that I came out of High School with a mature perspective on how to work with other people, how to care for myself, and how to set goals for myself and make effective use of my education. If I hadn’t, then it seems odd for me to be stepping out on my own immediately. University shouldn’t be considered a transition year, it should be where the learning throughout that transition is first put to test.

I think the root of my argument rests in the notion that society seems to have that adolescence is a period of time when you’re supposed to be immature. I don’t think MaryP thinks that — just the opposite, I always appreciated how she paid me a great deal of respect as a maturing individual. Instead of expecting me to be stupid and always err, she treated me like someone who was developing his capacity to make the right decision as often as humanly possible, as did my father and mother. And the fact that they all treated me this way was key! I can say (I hope) that instead of being the “typical” teenager, whining about any work and dropping my responsibilities as soon as I could get my hands on a beer, I was pretty good at learning from mistakes and appreciating the hardships that made me a better person.

Of course I didn’t make every decision correctly. But that’s just the point — a transition tends to involve more misdemeanors than otherwise! I honestly feel that I came into university having mostly completed the transition to adulthood. I entered as a (basically) financially, emotionally, and morally independent individual. I was ready to tackle the role of adulthood.

And, while some people feel like tackling adulthood is enough to leave them lying in the dirt moaning, my experience (as a football player and a teenager 😉 ) left me ready to take the couple hits that would ensue, and ready to prove myself as a competent adult.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m past all of the hits. Financially, there’ll be problems from here until God decides otherwise — that much was made clear in the first couple months on my own. Emotionally, there were struggles with my role as an adult, most of which revolved around the fact that leaving behind your adolescent self isn’t always easy. But by the time I hit university, I was leaving behind the teenage Ben, and that’s important to my development as an adult. The university transition isn’t about learning to stop being a teenager — it’s about being an adult, fully, and transitioning from a young adult to a mature one.

That’s why I cringed when I came across this surprisingly relevant article in the Globe and Mail today. The question being asked is how a parent should handle it when their “kid” is partying, resulting in a waste of money on the part of the parent. The respondent says:

Some people major in English lit. Some major in economics. Your son just happens to be a major partier. Certainly, it’s disconcerting to think that all that money you earn by the sweat of your brow is ending up in a residence toilet at three in the morning. But before you freak out and turn off the financial tap, breathe deeply and relax. I bet if you think back to your own first semester in university, you’ll remember more about what when on between classes than in them. In fact, Evelyn Rodinos, a psychologist at McGill University’s counselling centre, even suggests that your son’s wild and crazy behaviour might be a good thing. For his development, and for his future in the job market.

“For freshman, it’s almost a rite of passage to do a lot of experimenting and try out a lot of different personas. As they’re trying to find themselves and choose who they want to be, academics isn’t going to be in the top three or four priorities,” says Ms. Rodinos. “Usually,” she laughs, “number one is having sex.” And according to the admirably realistic Ms. Rodinos, you shouldn’t necessarily curb your son’s careless behaviour, at least not right away. “Social status may be more important towards performance in the long term,” she says. “As long as you have social skills, you’re going to be successful.”

Why cringe? Well, first of all I think the development theory is horrible skewed here. The “kid” shouldn’t be a kid by the time he’s in university. He should be beyond “learning who he is” and should be at the point where he can test to see if who he is is really going to work out now that he’s an adult. But even worse is the fact that the advise is to keep funding this behaviour, because it’s important for him as a growing “child.”

That’s bull, plain and simple. One of the wonders of university life for me has been complete financial autonomy. Yes, it’s hurt, and will have an impact on my near future. Yet, I’ve had to learn to be prudent with my money, which wouldn’t be the case if every one of my actions was “on the tab.” Having “the financial tap” flowing freely is simply encouraging this kid to be irresponsible and to continue blowing his money on booze. While the problem wasn’t booze for me, I can say that I had to learn to cut back on the fancy foods and other such “vices.” Fortunately, I had learned to budget and plan my finances responsibly before I had to be an adult — thanks to my parental figures — and so that new, adult experience was not so overwhelming that I will never recover.

Absolutely the parents should cut off the financial tap to their adult. If the author of this article were to announce that her mom pays for her bills and she blows what cash she earns from journalism on beer, I’m certain that people would be far less willing to stomach her articles. That same financial autonomy should have been embedded into the mentality of “Little Jimmy” throughout high school, and by the time he stepped out into the larger world he should have been able to realize that over-drinking was not a financially prudent decision.

Parents, give your kids credit. Treat them like blooming adults throughout high school, and they will be ready to step out into the world when they hit university. Stop throwing your money down the toilet; Let your “kids” be adults completely, not this teenager-adult hybrid that seems to exist later and later in a person’s life these days.

In short, want your kid to move out? Don’t just stop cooking with cheese; Stop paying for their cheese, period. Instead, give them the benefit of the doubt and let them risk buying their own cheese!

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. MaryP
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 13:04:58

    You’ve made me cast back to when I left home for university. I was seventeen, and I was ready and eager to be an adult! I certainly perceived myself as such. When you have a 17-year-old offspring (avoiding the world “child” here), it’s harder to see them that way.

    However, you’re quite right: many teens view their move to university as the first step of their adulthood, and, now you’ve made me consider this perspective, why on earth wouldn’t they? They’re on their own. (If over-protective mummies and daddies will allow it.) They are responsible to feed and clothe themselves, to oversee their own education, to do their own laundry, see that they get to bed and get up and get to classes. The university environment is still a semi-sheltered one, but you can deal with it as an adult, or as a child. Many choose to do it as adults. As you say: young and inexperienced adults, but adults nonetheless.

    Gee. A barely-out-of-adolescent young man cutting his peers less slack than an adult did! You radical, you.

    Reply

  2. Sheri
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 13:34:36

    Stop paying for their cheese! Love it.

    Thank you for that article. As a mom of a late teenage son still “trying” to find himself, I appreciate your wisdom.

    Reply

  3. Stephen
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 15:35:42

    I certainly endorse what you say in the post: before you finished high school, you were already an adult in many respects. One factor in your personal journey is that you are the oldest child with several siblings, and circumstances were such that you had a lot of responsibility thrown on you at an early age.

    Adulthood, in my view, comes when you start to take responsibility for yourself and others. There is no clear moment of demarcation, of course. But it is obvious that small children are not responsible even for themselves, whereas adults often have children or aging parents, in addition to significant responsibilities in their careers. Somewhere during the passage from one stage to the other, the individual reaches a tipping point: s/he crosses an invisible line and moves from adolescence to adulthood.

    Some significant developments happen during the high school years. But I would argue that a majority of teenagers in our culture have a very narrow range of responsibilities, even for themselves. In other countries, even small children may be making a contribution to the family income. Thankfully, children in the West rarely bear such a load.

    In general, I think university students are taking on primary responsibility for their own journey through life for the very first time. In most cases, they still don’t have any significant responsibilities for anyone else. Nonetheless, they are clearly on the adult side of the child/adult boundary.

    That some parents want to prolong adolescence even beyond graduation from university is just bizarre to me. They should have the words, “Kick me … hard” printed on the back of all their clothing.

    Reply

  4. nebcanuck
    Oct 18, 2007 @ 02:18:43

    MaryP: Gee. A barely-out-of-adolescent young man cutting his peers less slack than an adult did! You radical, you.

    Oddly, I’ve been told that I’m not very empathetic a lot of times, lol. I guess that it just has to do with the fact that I’ve witnessed four siblings and six “step-siblings” turn out pretty darn well, despite some often excruciating circumstances!

    Sheri:

    I’m glad you stopped by! 🙂 I’m quite glad that I offered a bit different a perspective. Also, I might add, the simple fact that you are willing to accept the perspective of an 19-year old as valid is encouraging, in my mind! If there’s one thing that my parents have shown me that’s different than many parents, it’s that acknowledging your children’s opinions and communicating your own goes a long way to developing healthy, interpersonally skilled adults. If you can do the same with your son, he’s got a lot going for him!

    Stephen (Dad, for the record! 😛 ): One factor in your personal journey is that you are the oldest child with several siblings, and circumstances were such that you had a lot of responsibility thrown on you at an early age.

    I agree that that played a major factor in my transition. I often felt through high school that I was a step ahead of my peers. I think a good example is the way I am in my workspace. Too often, I found myself frustrated with the workers who got a kick out of slacking off whenever possible. I think that’s a direct result of the training I had that responsibility wasn’t something to take lightly.

    However, I think that it’s important that I use the term trained there. My parents and parental figures (I have many!) both were excellent teachers of different aspects of adulthood. I could do a whole other post on the different areas in which I was influenced by people around me, but ultimately what it comes down to is that I credit as much, if not more, to the role models as I do the circumstances!

    Some significant developments happen during the high school years. But I would argue that a majority of teenagers in our culture have a very narrow range of responsibilities, even for themselves. In other countries, even small children may be making a contribution to the family income. Thankfully, children in the West rarely bear such a load.

    Absolutely. I think that balance is key, here. As a 7-year old, you shouldn’t have to be held responsible for the family’s welfare. On the other hand, I think too often in the West we see parents being overprotective and refusing to allow them to test the waters for themselves. Accepting that your child is going to be experimental throughout adolescence is key, just as is keeping them accountable and not handing over complete reins of their life. The little lessons learned often apply themselves to the bigger challenges that one must confront as an adult; By allowing those little challenges to be present, a parent can easily aid their offspring when they head out as adults. As you say later on, in university they are taking primary responsibility for the first time. Hopefully by then you’ve been ingrained with a sense of how to handle responsibility in general!

    That some parents want to prolong adolescence even beyond graduation from university is just bizarre to me. They should have the words, “Kick me … hard” printed on the back of all their clothing.

    Hehehe. And to think, every parent complains and whines about how horrible their kids are through teenagehood. “Kick me hard” indeed!

    Reply

  5. Dani
    Oct 19, 2007 @ 11:08:52

    I have to say I agree with pretty much everything you’ve stated. I don’t understand how parents can think their children are still “kids” at 20 years of age when many of those same parents were starting families of their own when they themselves were that age. The greatest gift you can give your children (aside from love) is a sense of responsibility to themselves, their loved ones and society in general.
    Great Post!!

    Reply

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