Sure, you must take charge of it. But talking to parents helps, rather than defiance and rebellion.

While many young adults make the transition from school to college to the workplace fairly seamlessly, others are mired in confusion and doubt. Have I picked the right course? Will I be happy in this college? Is my career choice a reflection of my interests or societal pressure? In addition to uncertainties about course and career choices, many individuals seek romantic relationships and potential life partners at this stage. Understandably, as many momentous decisions are made in this period of life, self-doubt and introspection are but natural consequences. As individuals morph from dependent children into young adults, they want to take ownership of their decisions. Given the multiple transitions taking place, conflict with parents may arise at this juncture .

Whether it is a college or course choice, or involvement in a relationship, your parents may have views contrary to yours. You as a young adult feel torn between respecting their wishes and charting your own life according to your own terms. While it is healthy and essential for you to forge your own identity based on your proclivities and aspirations, you must ask yourself if you are rebelling against your parents with good reason or if you are opposing them just for the sake of being oppositional.

Why rebel?

What many youngsters do not realise is that when you rebel for the sake of breaking free from parental control, then you are actually as much in their grip, even though you might believe otherwise. For example, Anamika has just graduated from college and has got admission in a prestigious programme for a master’s in journalism. Right from Class XII, she has wanted to be a journalist and has even interned at a newspaper while in college. However, on a whim, she changes her mind and tells her parents that she wants to work for a couple of years before studying further. Her parents are dismayed and are keen that she pursues her studies immediately. The more her zealous parents push her towards the programme, the more adamant Anamika becomes on getting a job. When her parents try to reason with her on why she should take up the course, she snaps at them, “Stop trying to control my life. Whether you like it or not, I am going to work.” She then applies to random placement advertisements and takes up the first job she is offered.

I am not disputing Anamika’s final decision but I am questioning her motives for taking up a job. Did she choose to work because she was unsure of the career trajectory she wanted to take? Did she need time off before immersing herself in an academic programme again? Or was her decision made in reaction to parental pressure to pursue her master’s right away? As therapist Susan Forward writes, “If we rebel in reaction to our parents, we are being controlled just as surely as if we submit.” In fact, she calls this type of behaviour “self-defeating rebellion.”

Thus, before plunging headlong down a path, youngsters, especially those who are pricked by the barbs of parental nagging, should ask themselves what the impetus behind their decisions and actions are. This is best done when you are calm and not overwrought by negative emotions. Ultimately, you need to make decisions with your self-interests in mind. Often, this might be going along with what your parents also want.

Independence vs. autonomy

You as a burgeoning adult want to assert your independence. But as psychologist Madeline Levine points out, there is a fine distinction between independence and autonomy. The former involves managing one’s affairs, whereas “Autonomy is the capacity to be both independent and connected to others.” Being autonomous is a lot harder and more complicated as it involves a blend of “advanced thinking, self-reliance, self-regulation, intimacy and connection.” In fact, research suggests that teenagers who are independent yet close to their parents are more well-adjusted than youngsters who simply want to strike out on their own.

However, if you feel that your parents are crowding not just your physical space but also your inner space, by wanting to take decisions for you, it is best that you try and talk to them in a cool, calm and collected manner without letting your emotions get the better of you. Instead of simply deciding to go against her parent’s wishes, Anamika could have tried speaking to them first.

“I am at the crossroads in my life and I want to take the best possible decision. I know you feel that I should do my master’s, but I need time and space to work this out for myself. By repeatedly telling me that I should pursue the course, you are preventing me from thinking about this issue rationally and deeply. I do value your opinion, but I want to make sure this is the best decision for me. So give me time and I will let you know what I decide by next week.”

Here, Anamika is behaving more like a rational and mature adult than a teen in the throes of tumultuous emotions. Her parents are more likely to have confidence in her decision when she responds in a measured manner. Furthermore, she then makes an informed decision that she can justify to herself. As a young adult, it might help to remind yourself that rebellion per se is not the stamp of an autonomous individual.

The author is director, PRAYATNA. Email: arunasankara@gmail.com.