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Berkeley’s ‘adulting’ class reveals parental failures

Perhaps the school should offer a course on parenting instead, so this problem is solved for the next generation.

One of the most popular classes at UC Berkeley this year is on ‘adulting', learning basic skills to help one get through life, such as planning and cooking meals, balancing a budget, managing a schedule, and navigating interpersonal relationships. Two hundred students applied for 60 spots in the course, which is taught by two undergraduate students and guest lecturers.

There is no doubt that adulting classes fill a need in society. An article in the Los Angeles Times cites Rachel Flehinger, principal of the Adulting School in Portland, Maine, who explains that many young people are suffering “major anxiety” over the lack of practical skills they have. They don't feel successful as adults and “there’s a lot of self-loathing that happens.”

Of course this must be addressed, in which case it's good that adulting classes exist to offer tools and instil confidence. But addressing the symptoms of a problem does not get at the root issue – which I do not agree stems from the cutting of home ec and tech classes from public education, as the LA Times article suggests. The problem lies squarely with parents.

Oddly, the two undergrad students who teach Berkeley's class say parents shouldn't be blamed for their kids' lack of ability to function in the real world:

“Maybe it is our parents who aren’t teaching us these things we thought we should already know, but we don’t want to blame our parents for us being naive or ignorant. It’s our responsibility as college students to know that if we’re struggling in some aspect, there are resources out there for us.”

Yes, those poor kids have to scramble to make up for lost learning – and it's great that they're trying – but to absolve parents of responsibility for teaching their kids basic life skills is absurd. No one else is responsible for making sure someone's kids turn out OK. Various institutions (educational, medical, welfare) will contribute to the worthy cause and interfere if problems arise, but it is ultimately up to individual moms and dads to produce decent, pleasant, semi-capable teenagers who can then go off to school or work without falling to pieces.

But parents are busy focusing on other things! some have argued. Writing for Inc., Minda Zetlin argues that it's a societal problem, not a parental one. The all-consuming goal of getting a college education in order to set one's child up for financial success in the world has become a top priority, pushing all other practical life lessons out of the way to make room for studying, homework, tutoring, extra-curriculars, and the after-school jobs that will help pay for it.

“[These] super-serious, very hard-working young adults… have little of anything that might look like unstructured free time, known to be highly important for mental and emotional development. And, no, they're not using what little free time they have to learn how to bake a cake or fix a dripping faucet.”

But what if they had learned to bake cakes when they were 8? Or helped a parent fix a dripping faucet at age 10? What if they've been folding laundry and vacuuming since they were 6? And handled friend drama on their own at age 13? These are not lessons that can be crammed into one's senior year at high school; they're part of an ongoing process that begins at birth, also known as raising a kid.

If there's any societal problem, it's not that college applications are too high-stress and leave no time for real life; it's that parents don't understand what their job is. The goal has to be to foster independence at every step of the way, and to do so with great love, patience, and consistency. If they can do that, then adulting school will be unnecessary and their children will be happier, better adjusted humans.

I think Berkeley would be better off hosting parenting classes for all these young people who, sooner or later, will be having their own kids. The gist of that course? Let go. Let grow.

Perhaps the school should offer a course on parenting instead, so this problem is solved for the next generation.