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Any thoughts about a smiling Lori Loughlin, now released on bail of $1 million (her husband, designer Mossimo Gianulli, released for another $1 million), signing autographs when her plane descended for her Boston hearing? Or subsequently, in star-like manner, greeting the prosecution as chums, and more recently shopping in Beverly Hills, all smiles, with her daughter, Isabella?
I have a few. Watching her, or more precisely gasping at her continuing lack of judgment, it was obvious where Loughlin’s disgraced daughter, former media star Olivia Jade (who reportedly did not want to go to college) received guideposts: look pretty, pose, promote yourself, have fun, manipulate, make money, and above all, know how special you are.
Learning about the outrageous college application scandal surely demonstrates that crime does not pay. But it does even more. Though few examples of parental intrusiveness are as extreme or public, it highlights a parenting epidemic that too few are aware of, an inability to let go of sons and daughters during crucial years — to guide when it is important to do so, to step in when necessary, but not to dominate.College and grad school years offer opportunities to deal with disappointment and unfairness, to build individual identities, and to chart a course for a meaningful and fulfilling adult life that can best be described as an “emotional sense of direction.”
A parental determination to control the lives of sons and daughters at this time deprives them of this opportunity, produces enormous anger (either internalized or acted out), and is a contributing factor leading to drugs and alcohol to escape a lack of self-esteem, involvement with those who will treat them with the same lack of respect they feel about themselves, and dropping out completely.
Some background:My private and pro bono family therapy practice is in Philadelphia.For many years high school and college students in my practice have been accurately describing parents who “do not let me breath, insist on micro-managing me, telling me who friends should be, what college I should attend, and what courses I should take when there.”
This inability to let go is not only epidemic in wealthy families.It is doing grave damage to sons and daughters in all socioeconomic and cultural groups, wherethree parenting patterns deter their development of confidence and autonomy and falsely, dangerously convey a message that moms and dads are the only ones who can protect them and ensure their happiness:
1. Enmeshment, where family members are glued together, and are expected to remain so, with mom and dad in control
2. Extreme Overprotection, where children are continuously coddled in destructive ways
3. Extreme Overindulgence, where they grow up with every whim indulged and with a sense of entitlement, believing they deserve more than “ordinary people.”
Often the parents of overindulged, overprotected children long to be and remain their best friends, absconding their necessary parental responsibilities. In enmeshed families the parental goal is usually to maintain control
On college campuses these parents expect texting daily and supervise course decisions and chosen majors – in this way intruding on important faculty and mentoring relationships.They rush to campus, invited and not, to take over when there are disappointments (in grades, relationships, you name it).When a client in college and several others in her dorm experienced bedbugs, the college did everything appropriately, relocating students until the problem was solved. My client’s dad called me, and in spicy language told me he was rushing to campus. My response: “I hope that bedbugs are the worst thing to ever happen to your daughter. Back off. Let go.”
Please know:I am not suggesting that if our sons and daughters are in danger we not step in.However, I am stressing that college and grad-school years are ones where they have unique-never again opportunities to care for themselves and pick up the pieces when things go wrong, learning from mistakes. This ability, best defined as resilience, is a vital resource in dealing with life’s slippery slopes in love, friendship and work.Why do so many parents adopt destructive behavioral patterns, depriving their children of vital, age-appropriate opportunities?
Often, well-meaning parents want their sons and daughters to fulfill their own unrealized dreams, but in doing so they deny them their own dreams. Parents also may yearn to offer protection from life’s cruelties and injustices, but instead deprive them of the confidence necessary to know they can do this for themselves. There is also the fear of “difference.” However, the opportunity to live in a community with those from myriad backgrounds while young not only helps to ensure adult self-confidence — it also protects and promotes a healthy society.
Also, the fear of facing our own mortality may well cause us to raise our kids as if we will always be here.But isn’t the most important responsibility of parenting to prepare our kids to live well and honorably when our lives are completed?
There is a further motivation — an all-consuming parental determination to hide from deep insecurities and be seen as perfect in all ways.In these environments, sons and daughters become unknowing pawns in a parental public relations campaign.
My guess is, as Felicity Huffman stated in her apology acknowledging the “betrayal” of her daughter, that most of the students involved had no idea what was involved. If they did, their parents most likely assured them that their actions were necessary to protect and help them, and that, in this effort, duplicity was OK.
This misguided and destructive behavior provides a teaching moment that underscores not only the dangers of controlling our children, but also that the best possible gift we can offer them is our belief that they can make good decisions for themselves, and deal with life’s inevitable problems and challenges.
If you see your parenting style and the reasons for it echoed in the above, it is never too late to recognize it and change. Again and again I have seen the healing that results if parents apologize for hurt unknowingly imposed by overstepping. And here’s a great bonus:Letting go, as well as acknowledging missteps, is the wisest way, as years pass, to ensure an ongoing, fulfilling relationship with our sons and daughters and those they love.
This article first appeared in the Delaware County Daily Times on April 16, 2019.
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