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12 January, 2011

EDUCATION TODAY: PARENTING REQUIRES INVOLVEMENT, UNDERSTANDING AND SUPPORT OVER THE VERY LONG HAUL

So what else is new?...Quite a bit really!
Two of my grandchildren are currently attending colleges while living at home and two others are a year away from entering similar hallowed halls of learning, no doubt under the same circumstances.  And you know what?...I'm so glad that I am not their parents.  I simply do not think that I could cope in today's rapidly changing educational environment.

A half century ago the school of hard knocks worked well because economic opportunity was plentiful.  On the job training was common, as was a natural evolution for young people in furthering education and in chosen trades and careers.  The path was slow, but steady.  Today, however, and staggering cost implications aside, we find ourselves in a society where it is generally taking young adults a lot longer to complete their formal education, find jobs that allow them to live independently, eventually marry, buy homes and have families. 

At a time when, out of necessity, young adults are required to stay longer in the parental home while finishing education and securing suitable employment with a future, parents are finding themselves in a very real bind.  Many moms and dads, I know, are keeping fingers crossed as they cling to their own jobs, contribute to offsprings' education, save for retirement if they are lucky, pay mortgages and inevitably care for their own elderly or sick parents.

There's another problem too for parents having to cope with the stress associated with young adults living under the same roof at a time when they are often painfully developing their own personalities, trying to figure out relationships and developing what may well be lifetime likes, dislikes and habits.  There is also the sowing of wild oats factor that is quite natural but not always meeting parental approval and resulting in some exceedingly uncomfortable and damaging confrontational disputes in the wee small hours of the morning or at next day's breakfast table.

Of course there is the all-to-frequent issue of parental divorce and/or remarriage in some cases and, trust me, no young person readily accepts such conditions.  Family breakup just adds to the number of things that an emerging young adult has to deal with and it only compounds matters for them as they live with one parent or the other.

It should be reinforced, however, that what I have just described is temporary and eventually sorts itself out by the age of 30 but, heaven help parents today, it takes a lot of patience, understanding, turning of the other cheek, support and yes -- love that only mother and father can give.

Richard Settersten, author of Not Quite Adults says parental involvement is in fact the key to kids' success today.  "The trouble is that we are trapped in a model from the middle of the last century when economic opportunity was quite different," he stated in a recent interview.  "Those benchmarks do young people a disservice today."

"Everyone is up in arms about the young-adults-living-at-home problem, but the evidence is clear.  It keeps a whole lot of young people out of poverty," adds the professor of Human Development and Family Sciences.  "It is a smart economic decision that allows a young person to be in school or to be in a low-income job that is giving them some life skills.  Spells at home that allow young people to amass resources really helps over the long haul."

I know from personal experience with my grand kids that they have difficulty matching skills and abilities.  They are exposed to multiple majors and even switch institutions and still face precarious futures. I get the feeling that young people are being forced too quickly into adult roles and responsibilities before they are fully prepared.  Granted, I accepted adult responsibilities and was on my own at 18 years of age and married with our first child at 23.  The same with the majority of young people growing up in that era, but times were different then.

Emerging adulthood is, in my mind, an issue that requires closer study today.  Given the evaporation of good paying manufacturing jobs, the central challenge for society is exploring and creating alternative routes to successful adulthood and careers.  Speaking from an educator's standpoint, Stetterten suggests: "We have to find ways to prop them up so they can do better at jobs when they do get them.  They need a realistic sense of capabilities."

Meantime, it is imperative for young parents today to be prepared for the long haul and to invest not just money in  education, but emotional support and counselling which is probably the single most important factor in determining which young people do well and which don't.  There are bound to be family disagreements and opposition along the extended co-habitation route.  That's only to be expected.  It goes with parental territory and we've all be there and experienced that to varying degrees.

But, oh my gawd, I would not be up to the challenge today...I had enough trouble with it 25 years ago and it was a virtual breeze then compared to today.  Better my daughters than me now.  My hat is off to them.  They'll survive...And so will their kids -- I hope! 

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