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As Our Children Graduate From High School, We Need to Graduate As Well

05/29/2015 11:57 am ET | Updated May 29, 2016
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With bitter sweetness, we watch our children graduate from high school, knowing that we will feel many mixed emotions as they shift awkwardly into adulthood. Part of us wants to hold on to the past as we question where all the years have gone. It seems like just yesterday they were sitting on our laps, smiling and clinging to our shirts. Now they are attached to their peers, attending proms, driving and enjoying life without our constant structure and presence.

As we watch our children at commencement, we take pride knowing that we've taught them accountability and responsibility, two necessary skills in the journey to adulthood. We have done our job, and now it's time to step back. We need to allow them to feel life's contrasts -- even if it kills us! We've poured hours into their young lives ensuring they were always comfortable and all their needs were met.

Now it's time to step back and let our young adults navigate through life's ups and downs. Allowing them to grow and feel uncomfortable is vital to their emotional development and is just as important as all that nurturing we provided. As our teenagers graduate, our goals for them should graduate as well.

Too Much Parenting

In making our children comfortable all the time, we've denied them that feeling of satisfaction that comes from working long hours to achieve something on their own. We strategized, cheered and coached them through their homework and sports, sometimes even fighting their battles. We micro-managed their projects and did research on their behalf. This over-assistance and over-parenting ended up robbing them of some necessary self-sufficiency.

Children build self-worth and self-esteem by learning to overcome problems. In our passion to make everything perfect for them, we have taken away some of the basic experiences children need to have in order to function properly. Well-meaning parents who continue this behavior pattern through college stunt their teen's ability to become productive adults with a sense of purpose and pride.

The Path of Self-Sufficiency

This is the time parents can help teach their young adults resilience by not constantly stepping in to fix every problem. As much as we hate to see our children suffer, we must allow them to make mistakes. Children actually need failure in order to become strong, self-sufficient adults.

By allowing them the chance to figure things out for themselves, young adults have the opportunity to train their brains to know that when one thing doesn't work, there are other options. Young adults can learn to make the best possible decisions with the cards and circumstances they have been dealt.

Yes, straight "A" students might get their first "C" in college. High school athletes who were the top in their sport will meet their match. The high school musician that won all the awards will sit second chair. This is the reality of life.

How Parents Can Help

Hanging back and allowing children to make mistakes is one of our hardest challenges as parents. As you see your child off to college, encourage new relationships. Nudge your young adult student to form relationships with peers, resident advisors and professors. They will learn conflict resolution by developing new ways of communicating and they'll benefit by learning new boundaries and experiences.

  • Resist over-communicating. Step away from your electronic devices and resist the urge to check in -- or fix things -- with calls, texts, emails or social media. Competency is a learned skill, it does not come from others taking care of our problems. If you placate your child with a soothing "it's OK" after they fail a midterm, followed by calls to the professor, you're over-parenting. This only creates young adults who are insecure and afraid of the world.

  • Handle money matters. If your blossoming adult runs out of money, let him sit with no money. It's important that teens learn how to budget. We create healthy individuated adults by not enabling them. They need to learn that life can't give them everything they want instantly.
  • Insist on a job. Having a job, even one that's menial, builds character. If your teen doesn't show up for work on time, they will get fired. Ouch, but that's how they will learn the rules. They'll have to follow a supervisor's instructions. They may not like it, but that's how they'll learn to get along with people from all walks of life. Working will give them a realistic picture about the job process. No one graduates from college and become a CEO.
  • Our Ultimate Goal

    Having a strong sense of self, and knowing our strengths and weaknesses are ways we become well-adjusted adults. As we drop our children off at college, our goal is to release them, so they can become productive, independent and courageous. If our children become adults who can't hold a job, depend on us for money and material things and don't understand why life isn't working out for them, then we have actually hurt them immeasurably because we can't let go.

    Writer and educational consultant Georgette Van Vliet contributed to this article.