THE FINE ART OF PARENT/CHILD SEPARATION
We as parents have been in a continual process of separating ourselves from our children from the day of their birth. From day one we had to decide whether to let them cry when they did not want to go to sleep, how much to nurse their bruised knee or whether to leave them with a babysitter. We took them to pre-school and had to endure their tears while clinging to us as we tried to convince them they would have a great time and that we would return. We repeated that scenario for kindergarten, first grade, swim lessons, or joining a new soccer team, just to name a few agonizing memories. Now, as parents of high school students who are researching colleges we are faced with a major milestone of separation. We are facing the fact that our child is growing up and moving on ----without us. At least without us in the sense that he/she will have to make some decisions that are based solely on what is right for them and not what we think is right for them. The college-admissions process is our society’s initiation into adulthood. Your job is to be the chief encourager and supporter to help them through this passage, but the process is theirs and it is our obligation to let them make the actual effort.
My suggestion for parents of students beginning the college search is that you start distancing yourself now, right from the get-go. Of course, to be realistic, most students need some parental assistance to get going in this process. So how much help is too much help? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Of course, it goes without saying that you want to encourage your student to do the best academic work that they can so that they will be in a position to have a wide range of colleges from which to choose.
2. Encourage your student to think for herself and to trust her own choices. The more you do and think for your student the less he will be inclined to do so for himself.
3. You want to help them to be mindful of deadlines – standardized testing, application, scholarship, recommendations etc.
4. Focus on the ‘best match’ rather than the ‘best college’. Help your student to think about what is important to him/her – not to you. Talk about size, location, academic challenge, campus life, diversity, etc.
5. Keep your ideas to yourself as best you can. Your student is used to looking to you for opinions and advice, but in this case you want to hold off giving your two cents until your student has made some discoveries on her own. Over-parenting on your part may promote a lack of development in decision-making and self-confidence in your student.
6. Always keep in mind that where your student goes to college is less important than what he does while attending. Many a student has gone to a big name college and been miserable because it was not the right place. Just as many a student has gone to a college that few have heard of and been hugely successful. IT IS NOT THE NAME THAT COUNTS!
7. Work very hard not to become what is not so affectionately called a “helicopter parent,” by hovering close by as your child makes her way. This means that not everything that your child does either academically or socially should have the goal of getting into the ‘right’ college.
8. Let your student own the college search process. This is his education and it is imperative that she participate. A college may read over-involvement on your part as a sign that your student is not mature and independent enough for college. When in doubt remember who is going to college. Clue – IT IS NOT YOU.
9. Although I understand that it is difficult not to curb the search based on the high cost of college, I encourage you to, at least in the beginning, not make that an issue. Instead, work on figuring out your finances and then share where you stand with your student. Being open and realistic does not mean that you and your student can’t be optimistic.
10. Rest assured that if you have raised a child who is a good person, a good citizen, a responsible member of society who has core values and a strong character to withstand the hard knocks of life, you have done a good job. There are hundreds of colleges from which to choose where your student will continue to grow and become a success.
College Planning Consultants