Are College Students More or Less Independent From Their Parents?

Home Failure To Launch Are College Students More or Less Independent From Their Parents?

Young adulthood is considered a limbo between dependence and independence. This is even more true for college students, who may make their own rules and schedules but heavily rely on their parents for financial support and advice regarding many adult roles and responsibilities. This shift in their relationship with their parents as people who enforce rules to people they confide in often strengthens relationships, but can also make it difficult to learn to be self-sufficient. In our years working with young adults, we have noticed that many college students are very bright and charismatic but struggle with pursuing their goals as they have yet to develop the practical life skills to launch into independence. 

Why Do College Students Struggle with Independence?

Author Julie Lythcott-Haims recalls from her time as a freshman dean at Stanford University that she noticed a shift in students becoming more and more accomplished and yet more and more dependent on their parents to make important decisions for them. Parents were the ones who took on the responsibility to ask questions; select courses, activities, majors, internships, and careers; solve day-to-day problems and advise how to manage conflicts with friends and roommates; defend and advocate for their student; register for classes; fill out applications; track deadlines; and call to wake their kid up. 

With the rise of smartphone technology, parents and their adult children can remain in constant communication, which can combat feelings of homesickness, but also restricts young adult’s ability to experience life on their own and rely on a support network of chosen friends. As more career paths are requiring graduate degrees, more young adults are leaving college almost just as unprepared for adulthood as they were when they entered. Part of this is related to being overwhelmed by opportunities available to them and fear of failure, but it can also be explained by a trend of postponing responsibilities and the extension of the parental role into young adulthood.

How Can College Students Take Advantage of Opportunities for Independence?

For many young adults, college is the first time in their lives that they are expected to do things on their own. “Simple” tasks like doing laundry or cooking something in the oven rather than the microwave may require several phone calls to parents rather than a Google search. While they may have never dreamed of reporting relationship struggles or bad habits to their parents during high school, young adults increasingly turn to their parents to come to their rescue when struggling with their mental health. Reaching out to parents for support isn’t necessarily a sign that young adults are overly dependent, but somewhere along the line, conversations need to shift towards choice and empowerment.

Foundations Asheville takes a client-centered approach to helping young adults set personal goals by helping them explore their values and interests rather than always looking to others for approval. After residential treatment, some students choose to take a gap year while with us while others choose to take courses at local colleges and practice developing work-life balance. Our life skills instructors are available to check in with students about progress towards their goals and offer assistance with study skills and chores. Their attitude is all about helping young adults take pride in their accomplishments and building confidence in their personal success by offering positive affirmations, rather than a checklist of expectations that places pressure on their success. 

How Can College Students Learn to Adapt to Changes in Their Family Relationships?

According to a study conducted by New York University that surveyed participants in four age groups spanning from 8 to 69, researchers found that the older people get, the more likely people are to perceive their parents as “individuals beyond their nurturing role.” People’s “understanding of parents”—the notion of them as real people—was found to be low during one’s adolescence, when negative evaluations of one’s parents were common, until their early 20s, after which it increases through late adulthood. 

These results suggest that the progression occurs naturally, but it does not explain how to jump from negative evaluations in adolescence to healthy boundaries in young adulthood. For many of the participants, the parent’s role shifted very little, but rather it was the child who went from resenting their parent’s overprotectiveness to showing gratitude for their wisdom and direction. 

Many psychologists suggest that moving out of one’s house or hometown is one of the most significant predictors of independence in young adulthood, as young adults have more opportunities to learn through their own experiences. Developing a support network outside of one’s nuclear family is another step towards becoming more independent and helps families shift conversations from caretaking to mutual interests and respect. 

Foundations Asheville can help

Foundations Asheville is a program for young adults ages 18-24 who are struggling to launch into adulthood. This program is committed to helping young adults develop and sharpen the skills they need to be successful in the real world. There is a focus on teaching students how to enter the workforce, develop vocational trades, and functional living skills. Foundations Asheville gives young adults the opportunity to gain confidence, find their purpose, and learn useful skills that will help them navigate through the adult years.

Contact us at (877) 318 – 7273 for more information. We can help your family today!



The Foundations Team” profile “We work tirelessly to empower individuals with the essential skills and knowledge to thrive in their personal and professional lives. To contact our admissions team, call (877) 318-7273