Is Your Child Going to Need a College Course in “Adulting”?


It recently came to my attention that the University of California at Berkeley is offering a course in “Adulting.” This credit/no-credit course is not only turning students away because of its popularity, but it is also the brain-child of two Cal students, Belle Lau and Jenny Zhou, who felt overwhelmed by taking on not only the responsibilities of university life but of adult life in general!

Like U.C. Berkeley, many colleges across the nation have taken to offering courses and workshops on adulting topics that run the gamut from, how to create a budget, what to eat and how to care for yourself, to how to file taxes and build credit. 

But, why in the world are these courses and workshops so popular? According to Lau and Zhou, it’s because not only did they feel inept at life skills, so did many of their peers! Some educators point to the pressures on teens to have high grade-point-averages and pass college entrance exams, in addition to hovering parents that take care of life so their children can concentrate on their academics.

The shortcomings of helicopter parenting

Helicopter parents take over tasks and responsibilities for their children. Their intentions can range from loving their child so much they want to relieve them of stress and protect them from failure to wanting to make sure their kids do not have to worry about anything but those things that will guarantee entry to university and thus set them up for success in life. 

What is the problem with this?

You guessed it: by protecting your kids, especially adolescents, from the everyday responsibilities of life, the helicopter parents are actually curtailing their children’s future prospects for success in life. If a young adult does not know how to create and stick to a budget, properly feed themselves or know when to take a break, they are being set-up for some big life lessons in the form of overspending and harming their health.

Allowing a child to fail is a bitter pill for most parents to swallow, let alone a helicopter parent. But, if we do not allow children to fail they will not learn the life lessons of how to learn and grow from their failures.

The problem with free-range parenting

Free-Range parents, on the other hand, believe that their philosophy of letting kids learn and fail on their own will prepare them for life. Unfortunately, this parenting philosophy also has the potential of creating young adults who do not know how to manage their lives. 

Yes, these children are more likely to fail, as well as to learn some of life’s lessons the hard way. But, without adult guidance and mentorship, the important part of learning and growing from stumbles and failures is not nurtured in a way that can help them manage their lives as young adults

To be fair, if one is to truly follow the edicts of free-range parenting, prudent adult intervention is supposed to happen as the kids are learning and growing. The challenge occurs with the differing ideas of what prudent intervention actually is.  

What the college-aged young adults who are flocking to the adulting courses and workshops are saying is that, whether it’s how to cook a healthy meal or how to put a stamp on a snail mail letter, they don’t know what they are doing.

What about the high schools?

In the not-so-distant past schools shared the burden of teaching our children adulting skills. The schools offered home economics classes in cooking, sewing, and family budgeting. They also offered consumer education classes on how to bank, write a check, and balance a checkbook.

But, as the pressure to prepare students for the competitive standards of America’s colleges and universities increased, the number of courses offered in life-skills decreased exponentially. According to an AP News article Duanne Whitback, the chair of the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at Pittsburg State University noted, “It’s [family and consumer sciences] not considered to be a core area, and so it’s easier to say, ‘maybe we don’t need this.’”

Is there a middle path?

There is! In raising our kids we have definitely strayed into both helicoptering (me) and free-ranging (my husband). But, we try to keep it in the middle as much as possible.  We allow our kids a lot of independence now that they are teens. But, we also exercise boundaries, and in our kids’ eyes, probably some control.

For example, our son is 16 and has his own car (handed down from dad). He is allowed to drive locally and we pay his car insurance. However, we also have an app called Life 360 on our phones so that we can track where he is going and how fast he is going. He finds this to be controlling and is most likely calling us helicopter parents behind our backs. We, however, feel that we are allowing him to have some lead, but that we can call him back if he strays too far. 

This is just one example of how to take a middle path between helicoptering and free-range parenting.

Find local workshops for teens

If getting your kids to sit down with you at home to learn adulting skills is challenging, look to local organizations for free or low-cost options. Check your schools, YMCAs, JCCs, or community centers for consumer education classes for kids.  A local credit union offers after-school workshops at our high school and even has a branch on campus that the kids can walk into! 

Many community colleges are also filling in the gaps in family and consumer education. Your teen can often take classes during the summer or even on weekends on everything from cooking to mindfulness and yoga! Don’t overlook Trident Tech!  For kids of all ages, they offer amazing summer camps/ programs!

Overall, if you have been leaning a little too much into helicoptering or free-range parenting, be gentle and forgiving with yourself. It’s okay. Just find that middle path.

To Happy Parenting of Teens!