Op-ed: A Psychological Look at Empty Nesters

By Bo Williams, Class of 2018

When a child goes off to college, it is not simply returning to school after summer break. Whether it is going off to a four-year university or a junior college, it is an important transition into adulthood. Legally speaking, an adult is defined as anyone over 18 years old, but is usually considered as someone able to be independent and responsible for themselves. Despite this definition, college students are usually dependent on their parents in one way or another. This dependence can either be in the form of an economic, emotional, instrumental, or informational form of support. In an economic or financial form of support, parents usually support their child by providing funds for their schooling, housing, and food. Emotionally, parents make sure that their child feels cared for, valued, encouraged, understood, and validated as a person. On average, parents give around 380 hours of support per year to their children, which is about 9 weeks of a full time job. Throughout college and into adulthood, parents provide invaluable support and advice about life to their child, which is why a positive parent-child relationship going into college is so important for the transition into adulthood.

For young adults, current outlooks are largely based on past family experiences. This means that the more social support a child has, the higher their self esteem and chance for success. In a sample of 18- to 25-year-olds, over the course of seven years there was an increase in self esteem, and a decrease in the levels of expressed anger and depression. However, the transition into adulthood can be very stressful regardless, and can cause an increase in anxiety in young adults. Parents are there to support their children, to get them through all of the low times. Parents are able to make their children’s transition into adulthood easiest if they provide the support and necessary resources to their children and have a positive relationship with them.

While a parent should never stop supporting their child at college, they need to shape a new appropriate relationship with them. Parents relinquish control of day-to-day activities when they send their kids off to college. In college, kids are learning about themselves and who they are as a person. In order to keep a positive relationship, parents must respect their children as adults. If parents respect their kids as adults, then they can more effectively use problem solving skills to find mutual solutions. There is a balance in the relationship because the parents’ responsibility is to still monitor their child’s progress and safety, but they must also respect their child’s individuality. At the same time, while kids may think they are adults, some may be more mature than others. Some kids need more emotional support than others, so it is important that parents are able to read their child’s needs.

Parents are the strongest available support system for a child transitioning from an adolescent to a young adult. A healthy parent-child relationship promotes positive growth, and a reduction in high risk behaviors. As parents provide the necessary stimulants for their children to grow, some tips to make the transition to college easier include give your child time to adjust to their new surroundings or the semester, don’t call early on the weekends or call them excessively, look for signs of unusual behavior which could be symptoms of depression or anxiety, give your child more independence when they are home, and please treat them as an adult knowing that they can take care of themselves. Some tips for young college students to make the transition for their parents include setting up a clear and concise line of communication, being careful about expressing too much negative feelings because your parents may still excessively worry about you, and always respecting the house rules when you are home on holiday or for vacation.

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