Let Your 18 Year Old Fly, And They Will Soar

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“You just don’t understand … my 18-year-old kid won’t do that.”

It’s a common misperception that 18-year-old children are incapable of changing, a belief that is most predominantly held by parents who have either been duped into it by their children’s incredible acting skills (I mean really, how hard is it to sort socks?), or the parents themselves have mentally flogged themselves into a state of undeniable resignation that this is as good as the person will ever get in their capacity to live an adult life.

Good, bad or indifferent, 18 year olds change. They can learn how to study, learn how to pay bills and yes, they can even learn how to sort socks. It simply takes a push. Do you think they learned how to play beer pong because of some chromosome? No, they learned, from peers. Just like they can learn from parents. An important first step in all of this is the parent or adult type person who is raising and enabling the 18 year old needs to check themselves, their bias and their own unwillingness to change.

Think about what you do every day for that 18 year old. Do you make their bed? Do you make their lunch? Do you pay for their Uber? If you do, then you are right, they won’t do it themselves. Why would they, they are living a pretty awesome life. In fact, I’m jealous. Let’s take it a step further … do you want them living with you until they turn 30? Or potentially longer? Look, I’m not judging you (lies), but let’s be clear, that extra bedroom isn’t going to turn itself magically into a crafting room, or an extra income on AirBnB if there is a pile of dirty tube socks in the middle of it waiting for you to launder them.

A college graduate who cannot live for six months in an apartment on their own without the supervision and assistance of a parental figure should have to return their diploma.

Now, before you all begin to write me and say, “but my kid is in student loan debt up to their eyeballs they cannot live without my help,” I absolutely understand that the cost of higher education is such that many young graduates live at home, or get some financial bolstering from their parents, it’s a tragic reality. What I am saying is this, if the young person has no ownership in the matter, that doesn’t indicate growth, maturity or an indication that they have learned basic life skills, and that is a problem.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal indicates that the number of college students who are graduating with Latin Honors has ballooned out of control – noting that some top-tier universities are awarding over 50% of their graduating class with such honors. At one Ivy League institution, the honor policy had to be revised after 91% of the graduating class of 2001 made the honor cut. I would argue that it is more important that a young person graduate with the ability to pay their bills on time using their own checking account, wash their clothing without the colors running, and know what to when a funeral procession drives by. Latin honors are nice, but compassion, civility and responsibility are forever.

A young person’s ability to find their way around a benefits package and their pay stub is more important than graduating cum laude. In the 30 years I have worked in higher education, one of my student graduates – yes, I said one – was asked by their future employer to produce their transcript, and this was because that individual graduated in less than four years and passed the CPA exam on the first try. For those who do not know, that graduation timeline is extremely rare, and less than half the individuals who attempt to take the exam pass it on the first go-around. Therefore, it is not out of bounds for an employer to ask for verification of an individual’s educational accomplishments especially when that individual’s skills are out of the norm.

Now, the number of students who I have received a request to perform a reference check? Well, I have lost count of that figure. But, I do know this – the questions they ask about are regarding the individual’s character, not their GPA. Please describe their work ethic. Would you please provide me some insight into their collaboration and teamwork skills? Describe how they manage stress and pressure.

What all this has to do with someone’s ability to match up socks is simply this. It’s not about the socks, it’s about the capacity to take care of oneself and others who they live with. To participate in the daily tasks. To manage difficulty. To celebrate achievements. If you do it all for them, a young person can’t discern the difference between difficulty and achievement. So, the next time you don’t think they can change, think about that reference call.


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