College is a formative time, not only for students’ minds but for their life skills as well. For the hundreds of thousands of undergrads in the United States who enroll as teens, college may mark the first time they have to manage their own schedules and master a laundry routine.
College is also a formative time for students’ relationship with their parents. Many undergrads, especially those who live on campus, are caught in a sort of limbo between dependence and independence, making their own rules and schedules but relying on their parents to help them navigate financial-aid applications and health insurance. Students may have to do their own grocery shopping, but there’s a good chance their parents are still footing the bill; they may live in a dorm, but their home is still likely their parents’ house, a place to which they return on breaks and during the summer. And this limbo, it turns out, may spur a healthy evolution in students’ relationship with their parents.
In one recent survey of roughly 14,500 college students across the U.S., three in five respondents said their relationship with their parents had improved since they started college; a quarter said the relationship was “much better.” Perhaps that’s in part because geographical distance fosters in students a greater appreciation for their parents. Students’ tendency to describe the relationship as improved “could be indicative of a shift in how young adults view the role of the parent as one of confidant and adviser rather than authoritarian,” says Tisha Duncan, an education professor at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina. Duncan is currently researching the stage of post-adolescent life that lasts through the late 20s and is known as “emerging adulthood.”