Fostering Interdependence In Your Student
I often tell my clients that when I was a young man I thought that being an adult meant doing
everything for myself. However, I later realized that being an adult was not about never needing others, but knowing when to ask for help and when to tackle a challenge on my own.
Learning when to ask for help is one of the most important life skills that humans can develop. Wanting to be independent and prove their adulthood, students can struggle with asking for help. In particular, males in our society are taught at a very early age that needing help is a sign of weakness. Asking for help, for men, can evoke feelings of shame.
Every day I seeevidence that college men are struggling on campus. For example, most of the conduct problems that occur on campus are committed by men. However, two thirds of those who seek counseling from our center are women. Not being able to ask for help can undermine college men’s academic success and personal well being. In a recent discussion with college men, they talked about feeling uncomfortable with and avoiding the following activities:
- Asking a friend to proof read or edit a paper
- Going to a professor’s office hour to seek help
- Meeting with their advisor to discuss academic planning
- Seeking tutoring
- Consulting with a career counselor about their career goals
In a study several colleagues and I conducted, we learned that counseling is considered by many college men to be the last resort—something to be tried only after all other coping strategies have failed. On a more serious note, we occasionally hear about troubled students harming themselves or others rather than obtaining professional assistance.
Leaving home and becoming independent from one’s parents is one of the most important developmental tasks for college students. However, this transition is accomplished only by developing a support group and finding mentors to help students in their journey into adulthood. Engaging with a peer group, supportive friends, mentors and “a place to land” is crucial and provides the student a sense of connection on campus. There are many opportunities for connections at the UO in the residence halls, fraternities and sororities, Student Recreation Center, academic departments, and/or any one of the student run organizations on campus. The University of Oregon Men’s Center, a student organization, works with college men to help change the culture around help seeking, and to promote bonding and belonging, and healthy expressions of masculinity.
My goal in working with students who are young adults is to help them learn, not to become independent, but how to become interdependent. Interdependence is the ability to take care of oneself by being aware of and fulfilling one’s emotional and physical needs. Most parents want
their student eventually to be able to take care of themselves and be responsible for their own lives. However, being responsible for oneself does not mean doing everything for one self. Rather, it includes the capacity to recognize when one needs help and to be able to ask for it.
Here are some things that you can do as parents to help teach your student the importance of interdependence and asking for help:
- Encourage interdependence. Talk openly with students about the goal of interdependence by communicating the need for students to fulfill their emotional as well as academic, physical, social and financial needs.
- Encourage students to take on increasing levels of responsibility for their own lives. Try not to take on responsibilities and tasks that your student should be doing for themselves. Yet, be open to offering assistance and support when they falter.
- Model ways in which you as a parent are interdependent. Talk about how you rely and depend upon others. Asking your student for advice or their opinion about appropriate issues could be helpful modeling and communicate your respect for their opinions.
- Validate their decisions to seek help. “I think that it was really wise that you decided to talk with your professor after class”.
- Encourage students to be aware of the many different resources which are available to them on campus.
- Recognize that becoming an adult is a trial and error process. Expect that students will occasionally make mistakes by not behaving responsibly or by not asking for help when they need it.
Helping your student to become both responsible and interdependent can be a challenging task—especially since you may live hundreds or thousands of miles away. Yet, drawing upon your own life experience, patience, and wisdom, you can help your student make this transition and truly learn how to meet their emotional needs while taking advantage of campus resources for academic success. One reward of encouraging interdependence is the adult friendship you and your student can grow into and enjoy.
Jon Davies is a former staff psychologist at the University of Oregon Counseling and Testing Center. He also advised the student operated UO Men’s Center whose mission is to help men lead healthy lives.