More articles by

Vandana Kohli
Vandana Kohli

MIND & BODY

Independence vs control

Independence vs control

Children expect their parents to let go, but what is independence?

A friend was recently upset, when his son refused to hand him over his mobile for repair. “What is my son up to that he can’t give his phone to me?” he thought. “What is he hiding?”

From a parent’s point of view, these are natural alarm bells. Where the bonds have been warm and caring, a close association often develops between the parent and the child, where they tend to know what is going on with the other. This is healthy, especially when the child is young. Such attention monitors and guides the child in ways both spoken and unspoken.

My friend’s son, however, is 16. The phase he is going through is a tricky one for him and his parents. His own interests and preferences are developing, as they should, at this point. For him to wish privacy in certain matters is natural, too.

Yet, he is unsure how much of his own he may claim, since the bond with his parents is a strong one. His denial to hand over his phone is a call for independence, to be one’s own person.

The fight for independence-versus-control seems a perpetual one. When should parents loosen their control over children and to what extent? How much should the child claim his own, and at what stage?

There are perhaps no absolute answers to this one. But, here are a few famous thoughts and quotes to reflect on, in an attempt to strike a balance.

For the child, here is a quote to consider. Judge Stephen G. Breyer served as an associate justice at the US Supreme Court and was known for his practical, rooted approach. “Independence doesn’t mean that you decide what you want,” he said famously, at one point.

Independence is respecting things for their value. It is respecting things and circumstance without undue antagonism. Here, in this context, it is to respect the care-consideration and resource that parents have contributed towards their child’s growth. Therefore, independence doesn’t mean that you decide what you want, with disregard to the other. It means finding your way, nonetheless, but with respect for all that is good that has come your way.

For parents, on the other hand, here’s a quote to reflect on. “True independence and freedom can only exist in doing what’s right.” Brigham Young, a leader and social thinker said this, in the mid-19th century.

A parent’s freedom lies in letting go, though mindfully. Parents who cling to their children and live their lives through those of their children, exercise an excessive degree of control on the child’s life. This happens where there is love as well. If it restricts the child, this approach also restricts the parent’s growth.

Parents may remind and align themselves to what is best in the child’s interest. They have to consider keeping their insecurities aside and understand that the child will find his or her own friends and life. It doesn’t mean a defiant abdication of their responsibility, though. They may continue to be watchful for any signs of trouble the child may find himself or herself in. Yet, in deciding that it is good to allow space to the child to grow, they free themselves and the child from excessive smothering.

And yet, through all such thought on independence, George Bernard Shaw had this to say: “Independence? That's middle class blasphemy. We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth.” More on that, coming up.

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