Emptying the Nest: Q&A With Author Dr. Brad Sachs
There are many things parents do that unintentionally interfere with the necessary transition to young adulthood. ParentDish recently spoke with Dr. Sachs to find out what some of these practices are and what parents can do to correct them. An edited version of the conversation follows.
ParentDish: Beside the weak economy, what are some of the major factors contributing to today's slow crawl to adulthood?
Brad Sachs: The amount of education that's necessary these days to achieve the kind of financial self-reliance that most people want is extraordinarily longer than it was even a generation ago. Parents sometimes have a hard time understanding that because many of them were able to achieve some sort of self-sufficiency early on, maybe even with just a high school diploma. A decent job in industry would give you the opportunity to be on your own and independent and own a house and a car. Those days are really long gone.
Another [factor] is many families can no longer afford to send their children to four-year colleges, so they're staying home and going to community college ... which prolongs that period of time beyond what both generations anticipated and that presents certain quandaries and dilemmas.
PD: What is technology's effect on this troublesome transition?
BS: I don't think we've made an adequate adjustment to all of the technology at our disposal. It makes the achievement of autonomy that much harder because once that technology is in place the expectation is that you're going to use it. If a parent buys their child a cell phone, there's an expectation that "You'll respond to my text or my email and you'll do it pretty instantaneously because after all, I know that you got it." That puts certain constraints on that process of separation and makes it harder.
PD: At what age do you start instilling self-sufficient behaviors to get your children on the trajectory towards independence?
BS: Self-esteem and self-respect are completely contingent on feeling worthwhile, necessary and useful. And we've gotten off track with this in a sense that we decided that self-esteem is somehow dependent on praise and reinforcement, and the two really have nothing to do with each other. That's why it's important for even small children to feel that they're contributing, to see that they're useful and necessary.
A hundred years ago, if there was a farm, everyone worked on the farm and everyone felt they had a role and that role was absolutely necessary. But we seem to want to protect our children from responsibility, and in doing so we inadvertently undercut how confident they feel. So when it comes to even a 5-year-old, anything we ask them to do that is meaningful [and gives them] a sense of value is worth pursuing. Whether it's loading the dishwasher or helping empty the trashcan ... what matters is that they feel like what they're doing is useful. That's the basic building block for self-assuredness.
PD: What about tying allowance to that?
BS: I generally think it should be separate because those contributions should be made because you're part of the family. Allowance is used for learning how to save and invest and spend. Once you link [them], there's that sense of entitlement: "Well I'm not going to do this unless I get paid for it." And that's the opposite of feeling responsible and capable.
Want to get the latest ParentDish news and advice? Sign up for our newsletter!
Ask Us Anything About Parenting
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.