The Delicate Balance of Support and Self-Reliance
So much of the college experience is about balance. Students work at learning to balance social life and studying, independence and responsibility, seriousness and frivolity. As parents, it is sometimes difficult to watch as our students practice the skill of balance – and sometimes fail. But just as we had to finally take the training wheels off and let go of the bicycle, we need to step back and watch as our students take off.
One of the balancing acts that many students struggle with, especially at the midpoint in a semester, is the balance between self-sufficiency and relying on others. New college students, especially, may need to learn that being independent doesn’t necessarily mean they need to do everything alone. Knowing when to rely on themselves and when to turn to others is part of responsible decision making.
Why wouldn’t my student ask for help if he needs it?
There are many reasons why students may not seek the help they need when they need it.
- “I didn’t realize that I needed help.”
- “I’ve never needed help before, why would I need it now?”
- “Things will get better if I just wait long enough.”
- “I’ll look as though I’m dumb if I ask for help.”
- “Isn’t it cheating if I get help?”
It’s important for parents to encourage students to get help when they need it. We all need a strong support network, and students are no different. Although asking for help should never replace actually doing work yourself, knowing when to lean a bit on others is important – but also difficult for many students. Talk to your student about reaching out for help – whether academically, socially, mentally, or physically.
Who can help?
Your student may have more resources and help available than he realizes, and his sources of help will depend on his reasons for reaching out. Help your student think about those around him who can help.
- Family – parents, siblings, other relatives
- Friends – both at school and at home
- Professors and advisors
- Fellow students at school – Residence Assistants, Peer Tutors, Teaching Assistants
- Tutoring, Writing, or Speaking Centers
- Health professionals and counselors
- Other college personnel – department chairperson, staff members, deans
Most colleges have numerous resources available to support students, but students need to reach out to seek the help.
What about going solo?
As important as it is for students to know when and how to reach out to others for help and support, it is equally important that students learn and practice self-reliance and autonomy. Part of the college experience is independence and knowing when and how to do things for yourself.
While you encourage your student to reach out to others, also help him think about those things for which he should be responsible himself. He may need some help learning how to do some of these tasks, but it is important that he learn the skill rather than have someone do things for him.
What should your student be responsible for?
- Organizing his tasks and responsibilities, keeping track of appointments and assignments
- Managing his time
- Taking responsibility for his money and personal spending
- Making responsible decisions
- Managing his path to graduation – knowing requirements and tracking his progress
- Taking advantage of opportunities on campus – finding leadership opportunities, attending events and workshops, getting the most out of the college experience
- Managing his health – getting rest, eating wisely, making healthy choices
- Building his integrity – avoiding plagiarism and cheating, behaving ethically in person and online, building a professional online presence
- Being persistent, resilient and focused – recognizing and accepting feedback and occasional failure as part of the learning experience
- Showing up and doing the best job that he can – every day
Help is an important word, but knowing when to use it takes practice and learning. Reaching out for help on tasks that your student should manage on his own will not help him grow stronger and take control of his life. But not taking advantage of the support available when he needs it, will prevent your student from reaching higher. It’s a delicate balance.