Sunday, May 21, 2006

Alone Again, Naturally

When I ran away from home at 18 to join the Army (the Navy recruiter wouldn't take me seriously), my mother packed my bags while I called my dad at work to tell him I was leaving. He disowned me. I called home every Sunday around 4 p.m. to speak with my mom. It took about six months but my father started talking to me again. I can be pretty persistent as well as persuasive. Plus, I was his only daughter and his first born. That being said, I reveled in the freedom I had upon joining the Army. My dad had been pretty strict.
Don't Phone Home: "That is, until I realized the luxury I was afforded -- the simple luxury to be alone. The very word has taken on creepy and scary overtones, but in truth being alone means being on your own. And that truly is a wondrous thing.

It's a realization I have come to from watching the students who surround me on Stanford's campus. These young men and women are some of the nation's most able, smart and ambitious, with prosperous futures awaiting them. I am in awe of them, and I have delighted in their company. Yet I feel a sadness for them, because many don't seem to be living their lives on their own but rather trying to live up to the ideas their parents have for them.

Take the young woman I met last fall in a beginning golf class. Set to graduate this spring, she was enrolled in golf because she figured it would help her in the business world. Of course, as she admitted to me, she really didn't want to go into business. What she wanted to do was to be a teacher, but she knew her parents would be disappointed if she did that. 'Maybe,' she said, 'I could do a couple years of corporate and then teach.'

Or listen to the lament of the creative-writing professor about how his most talented students are engineering or science majors who won't for a minute consider developing and pursuing their considerable writing skills because of the expectations of parents.

The most ubiquitous symbol of parental control in the lives of these college students is the cellphone. Walk in the bookstore at the start of an academic quarter, and you will overhear students consulting Mom over whether it makes more sense to buy used books or new. Listen as classes break up, and you will hear students summarizing, in calls home, the lectures they just heard. And of course no day can be complete without a review of the food eaten that day.

Julie Lythcott-Haims, dean of freshmen and transfer students at Stanford, said that such instances are fast becoming the norm. She recently asked a small group of students how often they talked to their parents. Half said every day, with one student admitting she was in touch with home three times a day. Lythcott-Haims, who worries that students will fail to develop the skills to live independently, told the troubling story of a young woman who, unsure of the location of one of her classes, called her mother in another time zone -- for help."
Grow up for goodness sake. I hate the daily report. The whole idea of leaving home is to do things on your own, without getting your parents advice on trivial matters. That is what friends are for.

How did these kids get into Stanford if they can't find their way to class? How low are the standards nowadays? These kids don't need more time on their SATs, they need a lesson in common sense and how to be an individual.

More importantly, what are these kids going to do when their parents die? If you haven't learned to form your own opinions and stand by them, you aren't a true adult. No matter what your age.

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