It’s college. You’re no longer living at home. Your time is your own to manage as you please. You no longer have to suffer under constant watchfulness from teachers and parents. Especially for kids with learning differences — many of whom received tons of extra support in middle and high school — going to college is the time when they can do school on their own! It’s the ultimate opportunity to FINALLY be independent, right?!

Wrong!

Well actually…right! But with reservations. Let me explain.

College is a great time to flex your independence muscles. The problem is: independence is not all it’s cracked up to be.

One of my clients is a freshman at a school that provides all kinds of support services:

  • a math and writing lab every weekday
  • a math study group for his math class
  • an upperclassman who is the TA for the freshman seminars, and available for hw support
  • a graduate student mentor
  • and more!!

This student, however, has been feeling resistant to using any of these services because he wants to — finally!!! — be able to do things on his own. In high school he saw me twice a week, received several accommodations such as extra time on tests and papers, and received a great deal of one-on-one attention from teachers. In college, he wants to be independent and so has been has not been taking advantage of the available resources (except for a once-weekly session with me).

Today, though, the minute his face popped up in my skype window, he bemoaned, “I’m drowning in assignments!!!” Uh oh. It seems as if independence is not working!

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Independence to many of my teen clients is often equated with Freedom From External Restraint. They do not want to be restrained by rules, guidelines, and guidance from teachers, parents, tutors, coaches, etc.

However, there is a different way to think about independence: Freedom To Make Choices for oneself. In other words: autonomy.

As my client and I discussed the idea of independence, we turned our attention to 6 journal assignments that need to be rewritten this weekend. He had misunderstood the directions, and so needs to fix them before Monday’s deadline.

“Why don’t you ask the TA to help you with rewriting them?” I suggested.
“Sure, I could do that,” he said, suddenly sounding morose.
“Your voice changed. You sound disappointed. What do you really think about asking the TA for help?” I pushed.
“I want to be able to try it myself first, and then get help! How about if I try to rewrite two of the entries first, and then ask the TA for feedback about what I’ve done?”
“Perfect!” I responded. “The only thing I suggest is that you make an appointment with the TA now, before you’ve done the two journal entries. That way you will have a deadline, and someone to whom to be accountable. You will be more likely to follow through on your goal.”

Through the skype window I heard the clitter clatter of typing, and sure enough: he was emailing off a request to the TA. Nice work!

I love my client’s new plan. He is still honoring his desire to learn on his own, but he is also welcoming support. Getting support is not a sign of weakness, but rather of maturity. Of realizing that no one person can do life completely on her own, and that we need each other.

Freedom To…

When I asked my Facebook friends for their own list of Freedom To’s, this is what they came up with (brilliant group of folks, don’t you think?):

  • Take a look at the people around you, evaluate the results others are getting, and choose who to ask for help/ consult with.
  • Receive parents’ love, wisdom and counsel with an open mind and heart,  rather than reactive rebellion
  • Make mistakes and try again, based on the feedback you just got!
  • Get a job, pay rent, get health insurance, buy groceries…freedom isn’t free.
  •  Choose one’s value system and be held accountable to your actions as they relate to that value system. Asking for help is an way of achieving results in accordance with your value system. Certain politicians seem to be asking for our help all the time these days!
  •  Choose your own goals and how you go about meeting them, rather than having others tell you what to do. And once you’ve done that, figure out what resources you need. Like driving: decide where you’re going, what route you’re taking and whether you need to stop for gas!
For the last word on freedom, let’s hear from Viktor Frankl: “[T]he last of human freedoms [is] to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
What do you think are some important Freedom To’s? Leave a comment telling me yours!

P.S. Do you know a student who would find this article useful? Be sure to forward it to them!