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From the Quad

Independence a Wise Choice for Adolescents…and School Admissions

A recent study published in the Journal of Child Psychology shows a connection between overinvolved parenting styles and stressed mental health among young adults. The study surveyed 297 college-age individuals about the roles parents play in their daily lives: Do parents contact professors about grades? Influence course selection? Mediate roommate disputes? The survey also investigated rates of anxiety and depression. Researchers concluded that "helicopter parenting" decreases students' feelings of autonomy, competence, and connection—three basic needs that contribute to happiness.

This study reinforces something I have personally observed through working with young adults and their families. As children grow, their need for independence grows too. I once surveyed Bertram Group candidates about what excited them most about the prospect of attending a boarding school. The unanimous response was a desire for more autonomy. These young people loved their parents and were simply expressing a natural, healthy desire for increasing self-sufficiency. I also surveyed clients who had completed their first year at boarding school about what had been most important to them. The answer was again unanimous: "Making decisions on my own." The teens felt tremendous satisfaction from successfully navigating the independence they had secured.

Many parents do not realize that when children apply to independent schools, the admissions process evaluates the family as well. Admission officers and teachers have developed their radar for recognizing parents who do not allow children enough autonomy during the admissions process. In a worst-case scenario, extreme over-involvement could lead to a school rejecting a student. More frequently, this factor contributes to a child being considered lower on the list of applicants. Thus with the best of intentions, such parents inadvertently sabotage their own efforts to ensure that their children are admitted to desired schools.

The quest for independence is the dominant theme of adolescence. Simultaneously, rearing children to the point of self-sufficiency is the core mission of parenting. When we give young adults the opportunity to succeed on their own, everyone triumphs.

Cammie Bertram, founder and president of The Bertram Group, is sought after as a speaker at national and regional forums on education and educational directions. She can be reached at