This past weekend, spending time with my kids caused me to think about the intrinsic value of developing Personal Autonomy. As a college-age young adult parent, I have been contemplating my role in encouraging those skills and experiences needed to support this process. Autonomy is the theory that everyone is capable of self-governance. It encompasses freedom of choice in behavioral, emotional, and authority on life choices and by what rules. Personal autonomy hails from the perspective of one's awareness of choice, the ability to make decisions, and acknowledging self-power to facilitate action and change.
As young children, we teach them the importance of choice as it relates to others. We emphasize that the behavior and thought actions are limited to the social setting constraints (i.e., classroom, group, extracurricular activities). Although younger children have the power to choose, there are caveats, the choice cannot impact other children, must fit into proper social standards, and there are definitive consequences to crossing the boundaries. Our world is structured using various laws, rules, and written and unwritten social norms. Structure in large groups is necessary to establish cooperation, organization, and group interactions, but when do we begin to encourage our growing children to cultivate their autonomy beyond the social standards?
There are codes of conduct rules in college for the overall student body's safety. Beyond this, questioning social norms, developing personal philosophies, and encouraging individual thinking should become priorities in development. It's ideal for young adults to explore their belief systems, determine personal boundaries, and explore individuality and outside-the-box thinking.
What is my role as a parent? How can I support my child while they develop this independence? As I see it, our part is to assist our college-age kids in building a healthy perception of themselves, creating boundaries, creating strategies that align with their beliefs; to remind them that they are the resource for self-action and change. How can we help change individual autonomy as part of the growth process and not just view it as a "rebellious phase"? By viewing it as the process of exploring independence rather than a phase, they will return from. They are progressing towards independence and autonomy.
My college students are making choices that will impact their college experiences and beyond. They encounter and engage in learning situations that will help them advocate for themselves now and as they move into adulthood. Some of these may include- changing majors, beginning or ending a sport or club, ending friendships, creating boundaries, finding a new place to live and with whom, deciding if they will drop a class, deciding if they will talk to the professor, asking for help and even, choosing to attend the class (or not). These autonomous decisions create pathways of growth. As a parent, promoting and encouraging our growing kids to develop their independence may look like this :
1. Have thoughtful discussions about change.
2. Identify potential positive and negative impacts on experiences/goals/timelines/financial changes.
3. Practice active listening and then reaffirming their thoughts and opinions.
4. Let them choose individual directions to explore.
5. Allow them to take ownership of their choices and the consequences.
My role as a parent is changing. I am parenting from a distance, and usually, I don't have all the facts. It is no longer my job to control their everyday decisions. My job now is to guide and support them as they practice their independence in their new environment. It's a part of the continuing parent-child separation process. Letting go is hard, and parenting from afar is hard too. I am using this time to further their development by parenting supportively by encouraging, engaging, facilitating, influencing, listening, restating, and supporting them to advance their autonomous young adult's development.
The skills they gain will continue to adjust and evolve throughout their college experience. Helping my college kids find their power will lead to greater self-belief, increased self-reliance, and build resilience, the ability to adjust to and overcome challenges. These are the skills needed to navigate adulthood as they will experience many triumphs and failures throughout their lives. I intend to support them as they navigate through it all.
Love and Positive Vibes,
Lisa I @theresilientadvocate
Life Skills photo from http://elementarymyfriends.blogspot.com/
Photo from https://www.blackcat-cideb.com/en/life-skills-2