Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 28, 2023

Shifts in the parent-child paradigm during college

By NICHOLAS DEPAUL | March 28, 2012

The first relationship a child has is to its mother, this is a simple, physical fact of life. That relationship persists, in some form, until one or the other dies. The parent/child bond is highly complex across the animal kingdom, and humans are not an outlier. From birth to childhood to teen-age to young-adulthood, our relationship with Mom and Dad (or whatever our parental makeup may be) changes dramatically. Entrance into college is a major shift within that continuum, as it entails a semi-permanent physical separation during a time of drastic psychological development - especially in the case of Hopkins students. Our generation faces the novel case of constant interaction through telecom media, which preserves some of the aspects of the previously "normal" relationship.

From the start, let it be known that this column will not attempt to address the specific relationships of every Hopkins student. Clearly, that task would be far too great. However, I hope to shed some light on how to manage the rapid and monumental relationship changes that occur during our four years at school.

Teenagers grow into adults (legally speaking) while at college, and most undergo serious emotional and intellectual growth as well. This growth happens fast; I would argue at an exponential rate! Parents wave goodbye to one person and greet a new one just a few months later. One can understand how this could be a shock to the system. Freshman winter break is notorious for heated arguments and fights over responsibility and independence, as the child has grown used to their freedom and the parents expect, to some degree, that home life will fit the same mold it did during the late high school years.

As time goes on and reasoned discussions hopefully bear fruit, the parents relax their expectations, and the child accepts the limitations that still exist (my house, my rules kind of thing). This point is of overwhelming importance and little progress can be made if either party gets stuck. But once this line is crossed, the metaphorical soil is rich for a period of new and healthy growth.

The child becomes more articulate and learns who they are to a greater degree, while the parent tries to keep up. It is easy for the relationship to become one sided as the child embraces the newfound liberty of maturity and flies rapidly toward the sun without looking back. But the lesson of Icarus still applies, as our parents have much to teach us about who we are and what it means to be an adult in the world. In some cases, and I can imagine this is common with Hopkins students, the student outpaces the intellectual capacities of his or her parents, which may or may not cause backlash on either end. It is surely strange for a parent to see their child making more money over the summer than he or she! Open communication is vital in such instances. If the parent is proud, they should say so, thereby reinforcing their support and giving the child a major emotional boost. If he/she is conversely ashamed, then they should make that clear as well, allowing the child to empathize and not cause them pain inadvertently.

One of the strangest experiences is the development of a "friendship" relationship. Many teens feel they have this with their parents, and surely some do, but far more often it arises during the college years. Parents begin to confide in their children or admit failings that they had previously kept tucked behind a fa??ade. Nothing is healthier. There is no reason to present yourself as anything than what you are in the relationship between parent and child. Such falsities can only lead to pain down the road.

I make the assumption that most of my peers love their parents and feel horribly sorry for those who do not. Don't keep your feelings to yourself! Texting, video calling or even (gasp!) writing letters gives our parents immense joy and takes little effort. After all they have done for us, they deserve as much. And hey, you just might find a new friend along the way.

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