Do you speak to your parents more than four times a week? Discuss course selections with them before you register? Seek their guidance when something in your residence malfunctions? Welcome to the "Umbilical Cord" clan. That's the term my professor once used last year to explain what she deemed an unhealthy attachment to one's parents.
After learning that I speak to my parents almost daily and include them in my academic decisions, my professor noted that it might be wise for me to finally sever my umbilical cord. But do I really need to distance myself from two smarter, wiser people who regard my happiness and success as a top priority? I would argue not.
In America, there's a cultural stigma attached to real parental involvement beyond the age of 18. In a January Today Online article, UCLA Cooperative Institutional Research Program director John Pryor remarks: "When parents intervene in their children's college life and decision-making, students may not necessarily develop their own problem-solving skills, which may limit developmental gains in their learning experiences."
The story goes that you live with your family until college, at which point you begin to rely on yourself, care for yourself and decide for yourself. Your home will always be your home, but it'll never again be socially acceptable to live there for any extended period of time.
But other cultures tell a different story. In Israel, for instance, many students live at home during college. In Asian cultures, people commonly reside at home until marriage. My Venezuelan friend was simply not given the opportunity to dorm - she understood being Spanish meant living with family during college.
Psychologists repeatedly regard parental participation as the antidote for every other unhealthy activity, so it's ironic that these same professionals suggest that we detach ourselves from our parents and other family members after high school. We need our family in college as well.
A 2003 article in the NeuroPsychiatry Reviews found that "freshmen who live with their parents score higher on a mental health test than do those who live elsewhere." More recently, the National Survey of Student Engagement found that "parental involvement may actually be an enriching experience. Students who are in frequent contact with their parents were found to have a more satisfying college experience."
It's possible to nurture your own self-reliance, while still including your parents or other relatives in your day-to-day thoughts. When I found out last week that I was rooming with a furry gray mouse, I called my mom. Sure, I could've figured out how to deal with it on my own, but the point is that the woman who raised me from infancy knew how to calm me down and get me thinking productively.
"I talk to my parents everyday on the phone [to] tell them how my day was," said Collge freshman Tobi Ariyo. "They really encourage me and give me support."
I spoke with William Alexander, interim director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Penn, who argued that "families are the biggest support system you've got."
"It's a shame that it's become a stigma to take advantage of that," he told me. "Just because you involve your family in your life, it's not necessarily pathological."
But Alexander also pointed out that each individual is different and that chatting with your parents less often is not necessarily bad either. For people with tenuous home situations, speaking with their parents is often unhealthy. Alexander explained that each person should "follow the culture of [their] family," as opposed to societal expectations.
Academically speaking, we should definitely include our parents in our choices and considerations. It's only fair - especially if they're the ones paying absurd amounts for our education. But beyond being fair, they have experience on their side and know what to suggest. Not to say that we're obligated to heed their advice, but I see no reason to exclude them from the process.
I understand if constant communication with your parents just isn't your thing.
But to those of you who want to include them but fear that doing so will stunt your emotional growth, recognize that they're a valuable resource. Not calling our parents or family members doesn't necessarily make us independent - especially if they're still paying for our phone bills.
Dani Wexler is a College sophomore from Los Angeles. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Wex Appeal appears every Friday.Comments powered by Disqus
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