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Claiming Your Independence

Christa Semecky remembers spending much of her college career locked up in her dorm room, living in fear.

"I didn't do anything but go to class, the dining hall, and home," confesses Christa, a graduate of the University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI. "I never left campus; I just rented movies on the weekends." That's because neither Christa, 22, nor her parents had ever come to an understanding as to how they'd all be affected by the changes that college presents--specifically, independence.

Homebound Horrors
It's hard to be independent while you're under your parents' roof. They're always there to notice when you come in late, whom you hang out with, and when you aren't studying. In some cases, parents set down financial rules before students can spend a cent. And, many college students and their parents have different ideas about what these rules should be.

Although some students feel comfortable speaking to their parents, there are others who keep their lips sealed. In Christa's case, she remained silent for four years, and when she finally voiced her opinion, it didn't move any mountains. For now, she's biting her tongue until she finds a place of her own.

Jenny Meyer also craved independence when she lived at home and attended Webster University, St. Louis, MO. Although she had a decent relationship with her parents, she was still subject to their authority.

"That took away a huge chunk of my freedom," recalls the 27-year-old. "I still had curfews and had to report my comings and goings."

Good-bye House, Hello Campus
For many college students, life on campus is the best route to privacy and freedom. Many report this option actually helps keep their family relationships intact.

Annie Byington, who graduated from Ripon College, Ripon, WI, three years ago, recalls having to move out during college in order to maintain peace with her father. She says he didn't approve of the people she associated with.

"In the past, I lived in a state of constant anxiety because of [my father's] attitude toward my life," the 25-year-old reveals. "But since the break from him, I feel lifted, and I'm really enjoying taking control of my future." Annie happily reports that the stress in their relationship has decreased.

Dori Schneer, a senior at Kean University, Union, NJ, feels lucky to have parents who let her make her own choices, although they did set down one rule that the 22-year-old respects and adheres to. "My parents are only paying for four years," says Dori. "Anything past that, I have to pay for."

Dori advises college students to build trust with their parents by getting involved in reputable activities in and outside of school. She says her community service involvement showed her mom and dad that giving her independence has kept her on track.

"Now they brag about me because of all the stuff I'm doing," she jokes. Instead of vying for control, Dori believes the combination of her parents' understanding and her efforts to stay focused at school have made her family relations strong.

You Think You Know...
Some time after graduation, Jenny was finally able to get her own place, though she had to rely on her parents for support because of financial constraints. Understanding what it takes to be financially independent, Jenny now respects where her parents were coming from, and believes other college students can have success by doing the same.

"It's very easy to eat dinner at mom and dad's every night of the week and use their washer and dryer for free laundry services, but that's not fair [to them]," Jenny claims. "Part of being a grownup is fun, but you have to take the good with the bad."

Talking It Out
According to Alexandra Robbins, co-author of "Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties" (J. P. Tarcher, 2001), communication is the most effective tool for college students to express their independence needs to their parents. First, Robbins suggests having candid discussions that allow both sides to express their needs. In addition, she says, students should try to understand their parents' perspective and listen to their advice.

"If [parents] feel like their input really matters, they'll be more likely to listen in return," says Robbins, adding that the talk will prepare parents to deal with decisions students make in the future.

"Keep them in the loop," says Robbins, underscoring the importance of maintaining communication during college. She has found that students want parents to be part of their lives, but they yearn for the freedom to make their own choices and mistakes, too.

Regardless of how college students and parents decide to hash out the age-old independence debate, Robbins cautions students to remember they're not alone when it comes to growing up. And, most parents aren't out to make their kids' lives miserable! Engaging in open dialogue and keeping mom and dad informed of your successes and challenges in college will help your parents appreciate the fact that you're growing into a responsible adult--handling situations on your own, and seeking their advice and input when necessary.


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