Preparing your teens for college can be an overwhelming task, but it doesn’t have to be. There are so many resources to help you navigate these unchartered waters. As of Mom to 5 children ages 8 to 17, and twin boys applying to college this fall, I am faced with navigating the unknown times two. As a first-timer in this realm of parenting, I am learning so much about the dos and don’ts of guiding my children, without pressuring them too much.
When I was in high school, applying for colleges didn’t feel so hard. We did okay to well in school, took an ACT or SAT test (one time), applied to 1-3 colleges, and got in. Times have changed and students and kids are faced with too many expectations and pressures these days.
Why is that? Nowadays our kids are told to take AP classes, hire tutors to take their tests (many times), hire a college coach, play a sport, work a job, volunteer, pay a ton of money on college applications and literally pray you to get accepted to the schools you apply to. Oh and let’s not even begin discussing the price tag on college tuition these days. Or the fact that these poor kids have had to endure pandemic related on/off virtual learning during their critical learning years in high school. As if applying to college and planning for college wasn’t already stressful, let’s throw a pandemic in the mix, which has increased depression/anxiety levels tremendously over the past 2+ years.
So to find out more, I hit the street to talk with and ask veteran Moms who have walked this walk. Their advice was telling. I also work with many teenagers and families in my clinical private therapy practice. I see so many teens caving and shutting down with anxiety when pressured by parents and society too much. I’ve learned through my work how to prepare my own children in more positive ways as well.
- Visit a variety of different campuses. City, rural, small vs. big campuses. Closer and farther away from home. Let your child ‘feel’ if they might ‘fit in’ at a particular setting better than others.
- Work on their own timeline. Don’t nag or nudge your kids too early or too much when preparing for sending in college applications. This will increase anxiety and end up being frustrating for everyone. When the time comes, kids will generally own it and figure it out more independently.
- Don’t do the work for your kids. It’s their future. If we do or rescue our children too much, we are only preventing them from their ability to learn to thrive independently on their own once they leave the nest for college. We must be sure to prepare the child for the road, yet not the road for the child.
- Be your child’s biggest fan and support. They are already nervous about this next step, so your being overly nervous or anxious will project and rub off on them. Try to keep calm and know that everyone eventually ends up where they are meant to be. Your child might not get into their #1 choice for college, yet be so happy in hindsight where they end up.
- Try not to get caught up in the frenzy or brand names of colleges. Find the right fit for your child, so that they will be happy and thrive. Remember, this isn’t about you and what you want. It is about what is best for your child, who is very uniquely different than you. It will all work out regardless of where your child attends college. They might even have to transfer or take a gap year to take time to ‘grow into’ what feels like the next best step for them. This is OK Mom and Dad.
- Lean in on other parents who have older children. Ask if their college-aged kids will talk with your high schooler. Oftentimes, peer guidance is so much more empowering on some levels than adult guidance, which can feel like nagging to teenagers. Having a trusted counselor at school, counselor or therapist, college coach, college student or someone outside of the family can help a lot.
- Let your child know that you are ready to give them wings to fly. If you are upset about them leaving, it will just make it harder for them to leave the nest. Make sure they see that you are ready for the change, albeit hard, it’s a bittersweet milestone we all must face as parents. We have prepared them since day 1 for this next big step. We need to take the leap of faith with confidence as much as possible so that they can too.
- Have the sex talk. The drug talk. The drinking talk. The peer pressure talk. The safe driving talk. Keep your dialogue and door open for your high schooler to be able to come to your when they make a poor choice or need guidance on how to solve these harder high school/ college topics.
- In closing, I have a personal note to my two rising Seniors. My dear young men, who are turning 18 in a blink. I do not know how this time has come so fast. I don’t have all the answers and I didn’t have a manual to prepare me for this next stage of parenting. I rely on my maternal instinct and am learning to balance trying to give you freedom and balance in making your own choices. Learning how to allow you to navigate your own choices, without me rescuing you or doing for you. Learning how to trust, knowing you may fall, and having faith that you know how to pick yourself up and learn from your mistakes. My dear sons, I know you are almost ready to fly and I am almost ready to let you go. We are in this new stage together. I have given you a strong foundation and now it’s time to practice giving you wings to fly. My Mom always told me that our job as parents is to prepare our children for the road, giving strong roots and encouraging children to use their wings to fly. It isn’t always easy to do, but necessary. A mother holds their child’s hand for a short while, but their hearts forever. It’s so so true.
Have no fear, you will find your way. It’s in your bones. It’s in your soul.
-Mark Z. Danielewski