Let me start with clarifying the term. What is independence? One definition comes from Multi-Health Systems, a company that specializes in emotional intelligence research and practice. MHS says that independence is the ability to be self-directed and free from unhealthy emotional dependency on others. Someone with healthy independence will be able to make decisions and complete tasks without always needing others to step in to do it for him.
For years now, I’ve personally witnessed a decrease in healthy independence in college students. The proliferation of mobile phones, unlimited texting plans, and having access to most or all of their students’ email (including college-issued email) and social media accounts now allow parents to follow their students around wherever they go, even if they aren’t physically present—a phenomenon that one Fast Company writer has referred to as “drone parenting.”
And what I’ve seen is backed up by what other experts in the field are seeing on a national scale. Research shows that many college students send and receive hundreds of texts per day. Not all of those texts are going from parent to student and vice-versa, but it does show how attached college students are to their smart phones. And, from my personal experience, far too many parents are just as attached to their phones. They see the mobile phone as their child’s lifeline, what researchers Patricia Somers and Jim Settle have called “the world’s longest umbilical cord.”
To strengthen my point about declining independence and resilience in the college student population, a Psychology Today story by Peter Gray demonstrates how more and more college students are seeking professional counseling help for issues that the average student twenty years ago would have worked through autonomously. It is now all too common for experienced university faculty to have students falling apart emotionally in their offices because of a low grade. Instead of rising to the challenge and saying, “I need to work harder to earn a decent grade,” the students’ attitudes these days compared to two or three decades ago is basically “make the course easier,” or “tell me exactly what I need to know so there is zero ambiguity for me.”
This indicates a lack of student resilience, which often stems from a lack of experience in making decisions or working through problems on one’s own.
Independence is an essential ingredient for emotional intelligence growth, which is key for success beyond college. In his book Artificial Maturity, author and millennial generation expert Tim Elmore often tells students that success in college is about seventy-five percent cognitive intelligence (or IQ) and twenty-five percent emotional intelligence (EQ), while success in life is just the opposite. Seventy-five percent of life success depends on strong emotional intelligence, which also includes self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.
So, Mom and Dad, I’m not saying that this is definitely your specific problem, because I have no idea what your situation is. But I am asking the question: To what extent are you encouraging your college-bound young adult to be independent?
Ask yourself these questions:
- On a scale of one to ten, with ten being “I do this regularly,” how often do you allow your student to struggle rather than immediately solving his or her problem?
- In what ways do you find yourself seeking to solve your student’s problems for her or him? What are some patterns you can identify? Be specific. If you can’t think of anything, what would it take for you to ask your student?
- On average, how many text conversations per week are you having with your son or daughter? Of those, how many do you initiate? How many does your student initiate?