Parents? If they ask, let them go…

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We Kiwis aren't encouraging our teenagers to be independent enough. Photo / Getty Images

Kiwi Parents aren’t encouraging our teenagers to be independent enough. Photo / Getty Image

“Oh. So BAs at Auckland University weren’t good enough for you then?”

This came from an obligatory acquaintance who I was sitting next to at dinner. This was his response when I told him I moved out of Auckland for university.

I responded, “Yes, darling. I’m special. I refuse to be taught by anyone less than Gandhi.”

No, I didn’t say that. I should have though. People assume I left from snobbery. I should play up to it. It’s more interesting than my real reason for leaving – that I wanted to be independent. This approach is becoming less popular though. Among my peer group, I am odd for leaving home for uni. In Britain, 3 million 20- to 23-year-olds live at home. It’s rising here too, with 38 per cent of students in 2011 living at home.

So why do we stay at home for uni? I reckon it’s because we Kiwis aren’t encouraging our teenagers to be independent enough.

I hear, again and again, parents telling teens not to move out for uni. And it’s not for money reasons. This is in the leafy suburbs; organic yoghurt and X5s abound. It comes from society assuming that university is an extension of school. But this attitude ignores the potential of university as a transition stage to adult life.

And it’s not having a great effect on teens either. Whenever I come home, I have friends telling me they’re frustrated. They feel like nothing has changed, they haven’t grown up, and they’re confused and dispirited about their future.

I’m not saying moving out for uni is the answer to all of these problems. But what it does do is give you your first taste of independence and adulthood.

It makes you recognise your capabilities, consider the decisions you make, decide what your future is, experience the weird and worrying, and teaches you who you are.

When you have moved out, you have to rely on yourself. This means that when disaster hits you, you are forced to cope on your own. This makes you realise just how much you are capable of. Humans fantastically underestimate themselves.

In 1999, psychologists Dunning and Kruger’s study of competency found that competent individuals underestimate their own abilities. Before I moved out, I didn’t think I could call people on the phone. I hid behind texting. Then I navigated my meningitis scare on a public holiday with no open doctors, no money, and no parents to take me to hospital. After that I was fine at talking on the phone.

The more you realise about yourself, the more you feel that you can try anything. The way you see your future broadens. You don’t believe in your own boundaries anymore. Only your potential.

The feeling of physically being away from home is instrumental in change.

Every day you ask yourself, do I want to go to the supermarket/class/bus stop?

There is no longer anyone scheduling your movements. This makes you realise you control your actions. This mindset of “I’m in control” then spreads out into your mental life. Why am I doing this law degree? Do I want to be a lawyer? Soon you’re reflecting on yourself, what you want, and why you wore shoes taller than most toddlers.

This awareness of what you want, and need, shows you what you enjoy. The 2013 Deloitte Shift index revealed 80 per cent of workers don’t like their jobs. Do you think they would be this frustrated if they were doing something they enjoyed for a living?

What moving out does is it expose you to a host of new experiences. And humans learn through experience.

I thought I would like clubbing. Then I went. That was a strange and unnecessarily sticky experience. But it helped me learn what I like doing and what I don’t. And having many experiences, as Einstein said, is the source of knowledge.

Now I’m not saying moving out is easy. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But it is essential in giving us the independence we need to understand ourselves. So parents, if they ask, let them go. It’s the biggest step towards adulthood we’ll ever take.

Published on NZ Herald November 1st 2013

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