September 10, 2014

Independence Doesn't Mean Going It Alone

As the school year begins, children from pre-K through college are often told to be more "independent." Parents and teachers know that it is their job to foster this. But, too often, independence is viewed as a black and white, all-or-nothing skill, as if the only two options are to do something oneself or to have someone else do it. Becoming independent is a learning process that takes place gradually with the balance of getting help and taking the initiative changing over time. 

Even the idea of gradual growth toward complete independence hides the full story. How many of us, as adults, are completely independent? Within couples, don't individuals care for each other in different ways? Perhaps one partner does the cooking or pays the bills. As labor gets divided, we do for each other. Friends, too, lean on each other and lend support. Do we think of this as undermining our independence? Probably not, because we don't assume that independence equals going it completely alone. Human beings are more often interdependent. 

As children and teens mature, then, it is important to help them know how and when to ask for help. Growing up is intimidating enough without making young people feel that to reach out to others (even to adults, and even to ... parents) is a sign of weakness. Adults can be a source of guidance whose wisdom need not be lost just because we expect teens and young adults to be more independent. After all, what is "networking" if not turning towards others for help. If it's okay for adults in the work world, why shouldn't young adults have the same luxury? Becoming a full-fledged adult is hard enough without having to battle shame or embarrassment if one is not completely self-sufficient. The truth is, none of us are. Becoming an adult also means knowing how to access help and support. Life is not a solo flight.

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