Opinion: Parent Vs. Student Choices

“You’re being such a teenager.” 

What does that mean? That you are moody? Irresponsible? Impulsive? Throughout my life, this phrase has always been used with a negative connotation. Teenage angst in response to experiencing physical and emotional changes during these years often earn teenagers unfavorable views. Even with these stereotypes however, teenagers are still expected to make countless decisions to prepare for their futures, including which classes to take, which colleges to apply to and what they want their careers to look like. With these supposedly “life-changing” decisions heading their way, the question appears: Are teenagers ready to make them?

Many don’t believe they are. According to the University of Rochester’s Medical Center, judgement skills are not fully developed until a person reaches around the age of 25. Since most high schoolers have not reached this stage of development yet, some adults don’t believe they have the mental maturity to make long-term decisions, such as investing in a car or choosing a major. Because teenagers have not fully developed their judgement skills, parents are afraid they will act impulsively now which will cause them to go down a path they will regret in the future.

To avoid situations like this, many parents entitle themselves to making decisions for their students by choosing their classes, their extracurriculars and even sometimes their career paths.

Although at times this may seem in the student’s best interest, it is important to remember that our society doesn’t function around our exact physical maturity, meaning students today are thrown into the world before their brains are fully developed. Adapting to this societal structure and learning to make decisions earlier is better in the long run than fighting against it, because it allows students to prepare for any hardships they may face in the future. By gaining experience in decision-making, students learn how to act independently and have a greater knowledge on how to approach difficult situations.

Many students enter college at age 18, around seven years before their brains fully develop. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016, 69.7% of high school graduates were enrolled in college by October 2016, showing the large number of students entering college after high school each year. For these students, experience with decision-making and independent thinking is critical for them to go from reliance upon parents to relative freedom. If this jump is too drastic or students are unprepared, it can result in poor coping mechanisms and higher anxiety. Adapting to a new school and new environment is stressful in itself, without the added pressures of learning to be independent.

High school should serve as the transition between these two stages of reliance and independence. High school is the time for students to form their own views and opinions on what they want and what their future will be. It’s the time for students to prepare for the next chapter of their lives. If these views and opinions are constantly being manipulated by parents, students may end up unable to act independently or unhappy with the path they were forced to follow.

Choosing a path for themselves has countless benefits for students. If they are unhappy with a decision that has been made for them by their parents, students may resent their parents for the mistake. On the other hand, by making their own mistakes along the way, students learn to take responsibility for their actions and problem solve. Owning up to their mistakes allows students to understand how to deal with the mistakes and hardships they will face later in life.

Of course, many times a parent’s control over their student’s lives comes from a place of love and concern. Depending on each circumstance, a parent’s actions could reflect their own experiences as a teen or what they have witnessed. But in order for their child to avoid the mistakes they themselves have made, some parents go over the top to protect their child from the same struggles.

That being said, by overlimiting a student, especially during their teenage years, students are more likely to rebel. This is the same mentality that makes people look at something after being told not to. Teenagers are prone to making impulsive decisions, and by never being allowed to do what they want, they are more likely to act in retaliation. 

In a society that is becoming increasingly stressful and pressuring, students need to take life into their own hands to deal with it. As a teenager myself, I have no doubt that countless mistakes will be made. But if parents could figure out how to make a life for themselves when they were younger, with the resources and knowledge we have today, teenagers already have a head start in figuring out the game of life. All they need now is freedom to do it.