When Is It Time To Let Kids Speak For Themselves?

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Well, it happened. My youngest daughter had her first college interview a few days ago. (I know, sh*t just got real.) And along with it being a parenting milestone that left a golf-ball-size lump in my throat, it was also a unique experience for everyone in my house. Because out of the four of us, she’s the only one who’s ever had an interview. My husband never did. I never did. And our oldest daughter never did. So, even though this isn’t our first college prep rodeo, this one, pretty significant, piece of the process is totally uncharted territory. Needless to say, we were clueless about how these things went.

But there was one thing that, deep down in my guts, I knew for absolute sure… Libby needed to make that call herself to schedule the interview. I mean, right?

Cause in my head, it just felt weird thinking that a senior in high school, on the verge of living and thinking and existing independently, would have her mommy call. It seemed counterintuitive to me, which is exactly why I encouraged her to pick up the phone and find out all the details herself.

And even though I may still make the occasional doctor or dentist appointment for my seventeen or twenty-year old just because they’re still in school and don’t always have the time to call, our kids have made those calls for themselves for a long time.

That’s why, without any real pushback (in spite of me subconsciously expecting at least a little), she trotted off to her room, deadbolted her bedroom door so that I couldn’t hear, and made the call. And bing, bang, done, she scheduled herself an interview.

No big deal, right? Uh, wrong. Apparently, it is a big deal. Like a surprisingly big deal. But we didn’t find that out until later.

Flash forward to the day of the interview, and wouldn’t you know, the first comment out of the interviewer’s mouth was about the fact that Libby called to schedule her own appointment. I just have to tell you, Libby, how impressed I was that you called for your own interview. Because that never, ever happens. Like never. Most parents do all the calling and scheduling on their child’s behalf. In fact, I’ll bet that in all the years I’ve been interviewing prospective students, less than one percent of kids do it for themselves. Good for you! I’m actually making a note of that in your case file.

Wait, what?! My kid calling on her own behalf to schedule an optional interview mattered enough to warrant a special note (with an actual asterisk next to it) in her applicant file? Apparently, it did, because she got one.

And that blew me—blew us—away.

Now while we’re pretty sure that this one, single detail probably won’t mean an acceptance versus a rejection, it obviously carries at least a little bit of weight. And when you’re competing against thousands of other kids for a small number of spots at your first-choice school, every little thing that sets you apart from the gen pop is relevant.

To be honest, the reaction of my daughter’s Admissions Counselor forced me to wonder, Why isn’t every parent letting their kid speak and act and be responsible for themselves when they’re capable of doing all those things? I mean, isn’t that what our kids should be doing?

Obviously, but it looks like not too many of them are. And I think that’s because, on some level, all parents are enablers by nature. And I say that in the most respectful way. And, of course, I include myself when I say that.

Because from my perspective, it feels like parents are putting the onus on kids to do things for themselves later and later. And that’s not good. Actually, it’s very, very bad. Because a teenager who can’t advocate for themselves becomes a young adult who can’t and then a grownup who has no clue how to manage their own life. (And that’s super bad.)

So while I’m definitely not the premier expert on what age we need to start handing the reins over to our kids, I do think that the earlier we turn a lot of the minutia over to them, the better off they’re going to be. And God knows, the better off we’re going to be. Just seems like common sense, yet so often we just keep doing things for our children because, well, parents do for their kids. It’s just what we do.

See, we’re all so used to helping our kids grow and thrive and survive for so long, that A), we’re so damn used to doing it that we’re just on auto pilot a lot of the time, and B), it’s hard to know when they’re ready to start taking the wheel.

That’s why we need to start small, when our kids are young, with age-appropriate stuff like encouraging them to answer questions for themselves instead of prompting them to answer, like we all do. Like when another grownup asks our kid what position they play on the soccer team and we answer for them or coach them in what to say.

Or, when they’re a little older, maybe we push them to pick up the phone and actually talk on it…to other people. Instead of making all the calls for them. Then, when they’re even older, and maybe ready for their first real job, we let them do the ask instead of asking the manager (while our kid is standing right there) if they’ve got any part-time openings. We need to let them put themselves out there, for better or for worse.

Cause that’s life, my friends. And if we prevent our kids from learning how to interact with the world, that very same world will eat them alive.

Will they screw up? Yup. Will they get tongue-tied? You bet. But they’ll also be honing those skills in the process. So that when it’s time for them to pick up the phone and call their dream college to schedule an interview, they can grab the phone no sweat and comfortably make the call.

Now granted, once we give our kids the power to speak for themselves we may, at times, want to find the shut-off switch. But in the end it’s worth it, trust me.

Oh, by the way, you can send me a nice Chardonnay as a thank you for that little tip I gave you a few paragraphs ago… cause it may have just gotten your kid into college.

 

About the Author

Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at www.lisasugarman.com. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is and Untying Parent Anxiety: 18 Myths That Have You in Knots—And How to Get Free available on Amazon.com and at select bookstores.Visit lisasugarman.com
 
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