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  • Dr. Shane Owens

Be thankful, for your college kid knows everything

As a tribute to my mother, who I tortured in this way, I chose "son" and male pronouns. Of course, it was not my intention to exclude daughters. I'm confident parents of college-age daughters face identical holiday challenges. Over the next few weeks, on rides home from campuses or from mass transit terminals and around Thanksgiving tables, one of my favorite scenes will play out. Your son—fresh off a couple of months of having his head filled with magical new ideas (that no one else has ever had before)—will open his mouth and spout something completely antithetical to everything you have ever taught him. He might even smirk a little. Take that! Your reaction will be somewhere along the continuum from mild amusement to “If you think I’m going to give one more %@#$ing dollar to that %@#$ing place, you are out of your %@#$ing mind!” There may be tears, wailing, the gnashing of teeth, the rending of garments. You may even be tempted to humor the kid, give him a piece of your mind. I urge you to think twice This is a natural reaction to being away from home for this long for the first time. Especially if your son is living on-campus and hasn’t been home since moving there, an inflated sense of self-importance and self-reliance is part of healthy coping. Even if he still lives at home, his increased need for independence is enhanced by his belief that he is stronger and smarter than he actually is (and than you ever allowed him to be). This indicates healthy cognitive, social, and emotional development. If you think hard, you have probably experienced this already. Your kid has known it all and been able to tell you about it since he was a threenager. This situation is different for a couple of reasons. First, if your tuition dollars are well-spent, your son is being taught how to think for himself and to better articulate his thoughts. Second, you no longer have as much control over most of what he learns. He has all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds filling his head with all kinds of crazy stuff. Your child still needs to know that you support him. Your kid will need you (or someone else) in his life to be there for him no matter what. We don’t grow out of this; it just takes different forms. And while he may be barely recognizable to you as he gushes about [insert name of philosopher whose views are completely repugnant to you], he is still making sure that you are watching him, loving him, and making sure that he isn’t going to hurt himself too badly. You won't really be able to help yourself. You will continue to worry about him even well into his adulthood, according to recent research. Your child’s annoying independence is a reaction to your good parenting. The Atlantic reports that kids whose parents zealously communicate their own political beliefs raise sons who are more likely to challenge them. In other words, the more clearly and directly you are about passing your values to your son, the more vehement his rejection of them. Do this instead: Listen actively to your son’s rant. Ask him lots of questions. Ask him to tell you about all the new things and discuss how those relate to what you taught him. Ask your son if he sees any flaws in the argument. Get your son thinking about what he is learning and move him beyond mindless repetition of what his professors are saying. And hunker down for Winter Break, when it will all happen again. Rinse, lather, repeat. Please follow me on Twitter. #stress #holidays #thanksgiving #coping #collegestudentmentalhealth #students #mentalhealth #suicidechildrenadolescents #family #parenting

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