Independence vs. Interdependence: Is leaving home at 18 a good idea?

leave home
A young man ponders his situation. Photo: Mike Chartrand

The other night, around 11 pm, I was having a coffee with a friend from work when he glanced at his watch, jumped up from his seat and exclaimed “I have to go man!.. it’s past my curfew and my mom’s going to be super angry!” “OK,” I thought, “umm.. what? Curfew? Mom?”

When I first came to Latin America – at the time, I was in El Salvador, I remember being quite perplexed when an adult would mention that they lived at home. You see, where I come from, it’s unheard of; no-one over 19 lives at home with their parents. And don’t get me wrong; I’m not passing judgement – on the contrary, I envy the ‘Latin way’. I haven’t seen my mother in years and I haven’t seen my extended family in at least a decade. I wish I could see them every day, but that just isn’t our culture.

Like most Canadians (and Americans), I left home at 18 to attend university in another city, and I never looked back. In short order, I had to secure a student loan, travel to my new city, find an apartment, get a job to pay my extra expenses, sort out my classes and just generally become responsible for my own life. My parents didn’t abandon me, but the situation was clear. I was on my own, it was my life, and it was my responsibility to manage it appropriately. If I made mistakes, and I made ALOT, (don’t we all?) I had their phone number, and they were happy to give me advice.

I’m almost certain my parents had a little celebration the day I left. I brought it up once over a beer at Christmas. I asked my dad; “Did you and Mom party when I left for university?” He looked up, and I could tell he was brewing a lie.. you know – the way people’s eyes dart left and right when they’re thinking about what to say. He laughed nervously and said, “of course not son, what a terrible thing to say!”

The truth is, it was a two-way street. I couldn’t wait to leave home, on my own and in fact, once I did leave I had a feeling of unbridled joy mixed with extreme terror.. my mind was scrambled with alternating thoughts of Yay – I’m free! Oh no – I’m alone! Yay – I can do what I want! Oh no – Who is going to pay for it?

When I raise this topic with youth in my classes here in Barranquilla, I often hear people say their parents would “die” if they left home “so young” (at 18). They themselves balk at the idea, saying they’d much rather live with their parents. To be sure, I reached out to a couple of local parents to get their opinions:

Barranquilla Life: Do you think kids are old enough to live on their own when they turn 18?

  • Danelis Tapia Beltran (38 years old, with three teenaged children): In my view, (at that age), they seem too immature to survive by their own means. That is very hard thing to do. Maybe a few years later.
  • Cristina Salcedo (41 years old, with one teenaged daughter): In other places it’s common that they leave at 18 or 19 but not here in Colombia. For boys, maybe. But 18 is too young for girls to be living on their own. When they get married, ok but not before then.
  • Mayerlin Castañeda (29 years old, with one young son):

Historically, families in Barranquilla, (indeed, in many parts of Latin America) have lived all together for economic reasons; pooling resources was the only way to survive. Nowadays, even across higher income levels, that tradition has continued. What’s more, families here are enormous, or rather, they seem bigger because everyone knows each other. If you ask anyone here to name the different members of their family, you’ll get a huge list of names – everyone from uncles to nieces to far-off cousins. And not only do they know each other, they know what they do and they’ve all spoken to one another within the last week!

That’s a huge divide from life up North. Of course, Canadians all have uncles and aunts, cousins and nephews, and we all care about each other but the big difference is that once we’ve left home, we only ever see each other at Christmas or Thanksgiving and it’s not common to speak to each other in between. To a Latin person, that probably sounds quite depressing but, in fact, it’s just a cultural difference. To me, it’s completely normal and had I not travelled here I wouldn’t have known there was a different way of life.

To round off this story, I spoke to a young man who left home two years ago when he was just 17. He travelled from San Juan Nepomuceno in Bolivar here to Barranquilla to study Chemical Engineering at Atlantico University. Based on my experience, his opinion is not representative of the norm.

Barranquilla Life: Do you think kids are old enough to live on their own when they turn 18?

Gabriel Montes (19 years old): I think that young people have to recognize that there comes a time when you have to spread your wings and fly, get away from your home. That’s especially true for people like me from small towns. If you stay at home, there’s no chance for you to improve your life. You have to realize that the change starts with you. And it isn’t easy. When I left home, I could only afford a tiny bed in a house with fourteen other people. And I had no extra money at all. I remember eating just oatmeal for weeks at a time. I wanted to show my parents I was strong so I didn’t call for their help. Yes, I think that moving out when you’re 18 is a very good idea. You’ll acquire responsibility and you’ll discover how capable you are and how strong you can be. I think it’s very positive.


  1. […] naturally excited about university. It’s the sense of freedom without having to leave home (unlike North American culture). It’s normal to relate university readiness with having academic skills, which isn’t […]

  2. I see that Cristina is in her 40s, so she might have grown up in a generation where that was true, and she still holds on to those ideas. Anyway, anyone should be able to leave when he or she is ready.

  3. I can’t believe Cristina’s answer. A women can live on their own if she want it and if she can afford it. You don’t need to be married to leave your home and live with out your parents. The experience of living alone should not be exclusive to one gender.

    • Hi Sandra; I agree with you – this shouldn’t be about gender but instead readiness as a result of proper education and life experience.