Is your teen a junior or senior in high school choosing which colleges to apply to? Do they hear advice as pressure? Are they struggling with safe and reach schools, unsure where they belong? They want help but can hardly bear it because college talk just makes them tense. The more talk the more real their prospects become which scares them. Some want to apply to twenty schools and visit them all. Some won't even discuss their options or go for an information session at a college. What helps? What hurts? How do parents know how to proceed?
Tips for Reducing Tension while Maintaining a Positive Parent-Teen Relationship
1. Try to let your teen initiate the college discussion, rather than you taking the lead. They often experience your questions as pressure instead of well-meant inquiries.
2. Talking about college on a daily basis is way too much. Limit discussions to now and then, unless your son or daughter brings it up.
3. Offer to help in any way your child sees fit. If they want you to read an essay, do so with a positive outlook. Discuss the theme before any grammar corrections. Praise specific details that you might think should be highlighted. Then if your child wants constructive suggestions, it's more timely to give them.
4. Going on a road trip to visit colleges? Try to group them so you don't have too many trips. On the other hand, don't see more than about three at a time because it's hard to remember the details once you're home again.
5. Look at videos of college campuses before you go to give you an idea of the questions you have about the colleges.
6. When you go to the guidance counselor for the parent-student visit, take a back seat at first. Let them talk. Listen and learn. Then after their input ask your questions.
7. On the other hand, if your child wants you to be his or her advocate, make direct suggestions to the guidance counselor about colleges you think would be a good fit for your child that the counselor may not have considered.
8. Learn about all financial resources from scholarships, to grants, to loans to the differences between public and private colleges. Some universities have both public and private colleges to choose from.
9. Before and after all college inquiries, listen very carefully to your child's feelings about the quality of the college environment that they feel comfortable in. If they are going to live at a college rather than commute, this will be their home for several years. While academics are essential in the decision making, the feeling or ambiance of the college can make a huge difference to your teen's adjustment.
10. Above all listen to your teen's preferences, his or her fears of fitting in socially, concerns about keeping up with an academic schedule, and remind them of all they have accomplished thus far to boost their confidence.
All of these tips rest on the previous relationship you have established with your child. I can't stress enough the need to listen without interruption, so that your child can trust you want to hear their feelings, opinions, ideas, and concerns.
This is also a new process for parents. Allow yourself time to adjust and learn. Even if you already have a child or children in college, each teenager is different with different needs and desires. Make sure you enjoy getting to know your son or daughter even better as you go through this process. Your willingness to get to know them will build their confidence. They'll know you trust them.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst with a new book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child's Behavior, found on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Familius and wherever books are found.