I removed all of the tiny screws that held together the base of her Chromebook. When I had taken them out, I used a small flathead screwdriver to pry the keyboard up from the base, revealing the guts of the modest computer. I unfastened the battery’s connection to the motherboard, performed a few more functions that a YouTube video told me to do, then refastened the battery, keyboard and screws. I pressed the power button, and my daughter’s computer was up and running again.
She is 17 years old, and is in the midst of her first major research paper. It’s a rite of passage at her school, the junior research paper. She loves her topic, because it’s related to health care and she wants to be a nurse. She’s approaching the finish line, and her teacher has applauded her enthusiasm. Perhaps the most valuable part of this experience, however, has been the fact that she’s done it all herself. Her dad, the educator and writer, has not seen a word of this paper. My job is to fix the Chromebook, not to concern myself with the words that the computer produces when used.
She is 17 years old, and she needs to know that she can get a lot done without parental involvement. She is driving her own car now, joining her own gym, and occasionally making her own dinner. As she visits colleges, she prefers to go with my wife, and my role is to help research the schools and make reservations for visits. I miss the experience of checking out colleges, but understand her need to sort through this decision without too much advice.
Of course, there are times when she reaches out for help with difficult situations that produce anxiety and stress. My wife and I respond to those requests with whatever level of parental assistance seems necessary. We may have been “helicopter” parents at one time, but that level of involvement is not helpful anymore. Our instincts hold us back from being “snowplow” parents, as we want her to find her own way through the struggles in life. When asked by the school if we wanted to drop a course that she was struggling with earlier in the year, we said no; with independence comes a need for resilience.
Her research paper is about the current public health crisis stemming from unvaccinated Americans, and the ways in which the internet has fueled opposition to vaccines. We’ve talked about the topic, and I’ve shared with her articles that I’ve found on the topic. It’s hard to read through a paper without stumbling upon another article on this topic, so I’ve shared them and she’s thanked me. But when I’ve asked if she wanted any parental proofreading, she has respectfully declined. This is a grade she wants to earn through her own efforts, and no one else’s.
My wife and I know that our assistance is still needed; we have a number of parenting experiences and decisions ahead of us with this young adult. But our education right now is one of adjusting to the job description of parent, and stepping back in important ways. It’s not always easy to recognize that this is needed. But we’re trying. And in the quiet of our kitchen late at night, I carefully turn the screws on the kid’s computer, finding my new role and hoping it can help her punch those keys on her own.