THE BLOG
01/05/2015 12:50 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

New Year's Resolution: No More Helicopter Parenting

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Welcome to 2015, a chance to begin anew. If you are currently a parent navigating the complex (and often maddening) college audition process alongside your child, you are presented with exceptional requirements beyond the average college liberal arts applicant. It's massive. Part of you wants to think your child can handle all the responsibilities by him or herself. After all, this is their passion. At the same time, you have doubts that things will be handled properly unless you get super involved. When the stakes are so high, how can you surrender control and trust your child to take charge, thereby avoiding the dreaded label, "helicopter parent."

Why not take this new year's opportunity and resolve to back off? Trust your child to do the driving. Relinquish the temptation to take charge in matters concerning college applications, deadlines, coaching and audition schedules. Instead, let your student take the lead.

For inspiration, let me share some wisdom from a few of my advisee parents who have successfully found that delicate balance between supporting and smothering. These five families of performing arts applicants hail from Florida, Georgia, California, Oregon and New York. In addition, I have included advice from a mental management professional.

Here we go.

1. How do you know when you have crossed the line from supporting to smothering?

Your kid will tell you when to back off, but you have to ride the thin line between "helpfully reminding" and "nagging."

We found that using email and texting them about their to-do list items created the least amount of conflict.

If you are talking more than you listen or if you feel your child is not listening you to, you may have crossed the line to smothering. Teens do not like to feel controlled, instead they like to be empowered to tackle challenges on their own. Empower them by listening to them and guiding them.

2. Are boys and girls different in how much parent involvement they want?

Not sure boys and girls are that different, but each individual kid is no doubt different. It has less to do with the sex of the child as the individual child. Each child is in fact very different in how much involvement they want.

I think most girls want more help from their mothers than boys do. I don't know that I think it is as much a boy/girl issue as it is personality type.

3. Are there some tips for how to back off/jump in gracefully?

Be there for support and encouragement. But don't do the legwork for them. Jump in if some major deadline is being overlooked or if letters of recommendation are missing. Rely on favorite teachers or coaches to help broach conversations, too. Sometimes a neutral third party can get to the bottom of why an application isn't done. Remind your child that you are always available to help, but that it is their responsibility to meet deadlines and be prepared for auditions.

The most important thing to remember is that you don't want to add to your child's stress level by hounding him/her to get things done. If you notice your child is overwhelmed and struggling you can offer your assistance but resist the temptation to simply take over. And always let them make their own artistic choices, even if you don't agree completely. Together with their teachers and coaches they will make suitable monologue and song decisions, and unless you are a theater professional yourself, you should probably stay out of it.

4. What are some tools for encouraging your student to own the application process?

Exercise "courteous persistence" in the process. Remind them that this is their dream, their passion. Help them stay focused on their goals, but also remind them that they need to look at the big picture with each school. Make a checklist/schedule of things to be done along with due dates. Have regular discussions along the way and be there for support and encouragement. Work together with your child to set a training schedule - treat it like any other competition. Set expectations for how and when they will "train", help them with this process but do not do it for them. Motivate, but don't push.

Have a conversation early in the process with your kid about what your annual budget is for college. Use all the online tools (FAFSA estimator, individual school scholarship calculators) to estimate costs. Auditioning for college takes effort, time management, motivation and determination.

5. How can parents trust their child in the process?

Trust that your child is capable and will know when to ask for help. When it comes to the audition itself, sit back and relax. She/he has spent hours training with trusted teachers and coaches who have mentored and have taught them well. Ultimately it is your kid alone in the audition room. Don't be the parent leaning up against the door trying to listen in. This is all part of the slow process of them leaving the nest, and you will be amazed at how well your child handles it. Remember that this is their dream, and not your dream.
Be okay if they get rejected or fail (it's good for them). We need to let them our children fail sometimes, and then communicate to them that they do have what it takes to recover and succeed. This is called, "failing forward". And trust that things usually work out as they should.

In conclusion: Allow your child to learn, grow and make their own mistakes without mom standing guard. You cannot control an acceptance into their dream school, but you can help to motivate and encourage them to reach their potential and be prepared for the audition process. Exercise influence over your child, not control. Your goals as a parent should be to encourage your child, focus on their strengths, communicate with them on their progress and be involved as a supportive parent, not as a hovercraft!

Happy 2015 and cheers to a healthy relationship with your child as you embark on the college audition process.