Teens Making College Decisions – Parent Help? Yes, Please

Teens Making College Decisions – Parent Help Yes, Please

Every parent wants his/her kids to become independent decision-makers. As they move into their teen years, it is definitely time for them to make choices and live with the consequences of those choices. They pick their friends, their activities, their high school elective courses, the clothes they wear, and a host of other things. We hope they will make wise choices, and often have to force ourselves to “let go” and bite our tongues when we believe a choice is wrong. It’s hard.

A major decision that is made between 11th and 12th grades is the choice of a college. This is far greater in scope than a decision about high school courses or activities. It is a decision about the next four years of this kid’s life, as well as one that has long-term consequences both in terms of career and finances. Parents play an important role – teens don’t have all of the necessary information to consider.

Before the Applications Even Go Out

Your teen will be better placed to make a decision that will be good for them if you’re able to have solid conversations before he or she begin the application process. These conversations need to include:

  1. What are they considering for career choices? Of course, this may change, but schools to which they apply should at least have decent programs in those career areas.
  2. How far away from home do they want to go? There needs to be a discussion about leaving family and friends, of course, but also about the great opportunities there are for kids who “strike out on their own” and experience all that new environments have to teach them about growing up and life itself.
  3. Budget considerations have to be discussed openly and honestly. If parents have budgeted specific amounts for college and those amounts will not cover some schools under consideration, what will the student need to do to get the rest of the funding? And do they understand the amount of debt they may have upon graduation and how long that will take to pay off? Chances are they don’t.

Having these discussions before applications are made will avoid a kid being set up for a disappointment. Yale is a wonderful school, but it costs about $50,000 a year.

Choices are Narrowed – a Great Teaching Moment

Once applications have gone out and acceptances have been received, the field has been narrowed. But deciding among those options still involves the same types of discussions as before and more – it will involve a decision-making process.

A college choice is a decision with long-term consequences. Most teens have not made such a decision before, and this gives parents a great chance to take them through the process of making those big life decisions that will come after college. If all goes well, the process will carry over into their adult lives, and they will have the skills to analyze options and to select the best one. The parent role in this is to teach the process not to make the decision.

Begin With Goals

It is important for kids to think about what their goals are in attending college. And they vary a lot. Some kids want pre-med or pre-law; other kids want a Bachelor’s in a specific field and then onto the work force immediately. Still others are totally clueless about potential majors and will need a strong general education program for the first couple of years while they “test the waters.” Whatever the current goals are, they should be written down.

Other non-academic goals are also important. What are geographic preferences? Is a larger, less personal environment that has greater diversity desirable, or is a smaller more personal institution a better fit?

List Those Pros and Cons

Once those goals are set, then each option can be analyzed with pros and cons based upon its meeting those goals.

A list of pros and cons should be made for each option. This is the only way to avoid an emotional decision, such as picking a school because a best friend is going there or because Uncle Charlie went there 20 years ago and loved it.

Insist Upon Visits

Your teen may have combed college websites and gained lots of information to put on his/her pro and con lists. But no final decision should be made without a visit. It’s just part of a rational path of investigation. Technology is wonderful, and virtual tours, inviting and exciting websites, and even apps that compare and contrast institutions are all great sources of information, but none of these things will replace physically setting oneself on a campus and experiencing the environment first-hand.

If your teen is particularly independent, many schools do offer weekend visits that will place him/her in a dorm with current students so that there is a real taste of college life.

The Final Choice – It is Your Teen’s to Make

What parents can provide is a process. They can also ask the important questions that will help their teens flush out their real goals, needs and desires. Ultimately, however, your kiddo must make the final decision. When that happens, it must be with your blessing, even if your choice would have been another. The important thing is that your teen now has a process for making other major decisions that will come along.

After the Decision – Support

Your role now is to be supportive of the decision and to help your teen prepare for this new chapter of life. S/he will need to continue to conduct lots of research in order to know what equipment, supplies, clothing, and even technology, along with tools and apps that fellow students recommend for being more successful should be accumulated between now and the departure date. 


About the author: Julie Ellis

JulieJulie Ellis is Miami-based marketer, passionate traveller and business blogger.

When she’s not engaged in helping her customers and students, you can find her writing lifestyle and personal development articles.

Follow Julie’s Twitter to connect and find some daily inspiration.

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Growth doesn’t always announce itself in ways that feel safe or invited. Often, it can leave us exhausted and confused and with dirt in our pores from the fury of the battle. It is this way for all of us, our children too. 

The truth of it all is that we are all born with a profound and immense capacity to rise through challenges, changes and heartache. There is something else we are born with too, and it is the capacity to add softness, strength, and safety for each other when the movement towards growth feels too big. Not always by finding the answer, but by being it - just by being - safe, warm, vulnerable, real. As it turns out, sometimes, this is the richest source of growth for all of us.
When the world feel sunsettled, the ripple can reach the hearts, minds and spirits of kids and teens whether or not they are directly affected. As the important adult in the life of any child or teen, you have a profound capacity to give them what they need to steady their world again.

When their fears are really big, such as the death of a parent, being alone in the world, being separated from people they love, children might put this into something else. 

This can also happen because they can’t always articulate the fear. Emotional ‘experiences’ don’t lay in the brain as words, they lay down as images and sensory experiences. This is why smells and sounds can trigger anxiety, even if they aren’t connected to a scary experience. The ‘experiences’ also don’t need to be theirs. Hearing ‘about’ is enough.

The content of the fear might seem irrational but the feeling will be valid. Think of it as the feeling being the part that needs you. Their anxiety, sadness, anger (which happens to hold down other more vulnerable emotions) needs to be seen, held, contained and soothed, so they can feel safe again - and you have so much power to make that happen. 

‘I can see how worried you are. There are some big things happening in the world at the moment, but my darling, you are safe. I promise. You are so safe.’ 

If they have been through something big, the truth is that they have been through something frightening AND they are safe, ‘We’re going through some big things and it can be confusing and scary. We’ll get through this. It’s okay to feel scared or sad or angry. Whatever you feel is okay, and I’m here and I love you and we are safe. We can get through anything together.’
I love being a parent. I love it with every part of my being and more than I ever thought I could love anything. Honestly though, nothing has brought out my insecurities or vulnerabilities as much. This is so normal. Confusing, and normal. 

However many children we have, and whatever age they are, each child and each new stage will bring something new for us to learn. It will always be this way. Our children will each do life differently, and along the way we will need to adapt and bend ourselves around their path to light their way as best we can. But we won't do this perfectly, because we can't always know what mountains they'll need to climb, or what dragons they'll need to slay. We won't always know what they’ll need, and we won't always be able to give it. We don't need to. But we'll want to. Sometimes we’ll ache because of this and we’ll blame ourselves for not being ‘enough’. Sometimes we won't. This is the vulnerability that comes with parenting. 

We love them so much, and that never changes, but the way we feel about parenting might change a thousand times before breakfast. Parenting is tough. It's worth every second - every second - but it's tough. Great parents can feel everything, and sometimes it can turn from moment to moment - loving, furious, resentful, compassionate, gentle, tough, joyful, selfish, confused and wise - all of it. Great parents can feel all of it.

Because parenting is pure joy, but not always. We are strong, nurturing, selfless, loving, but not always. Parents aren't perfect. Love isn't perfect. And it was meant to be. We’re raising humans - real ones, with feelings, who don't need to be perfect, and wont  need others to be perfect. Humans who can be kind to others, and to themselves first. But they will learn this from us. Parenting is the role which needs us to be our most human, beautifully imperfect, flawed, vulnerable selves. Let's not judge ourselves for our shortcomings and the imperfections, and the necessary human-ness of us.❤️
The behaviour that comes with separation anxiety is the symptom not the problem. To strengthen children against separation anxiety, we have to respond at the source – the felt sense of separation from you.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person, there will be always be anxiety unless there is at least one of 2 things: attachment with another trusted, adult; or a felt sense of you holding on to them, even when you aren’t beside them. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it needs more than an adult being present. Just because there is another adult in the room, doesn’t mean your child will experience a deep sense of safety with that adult. This doesn’t mean the adult isn’t safe - it’s about what the brain perceives, and that brain is looking for a deep, felt sense of safety. This will come from the presence of an adult who, through their strong, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for them, and their joy in doing so. The joy in caretaking is important. It lets the child rest from seeking the adult’s care because there will be a sense that the adult wants it enough for both.

This can be helped along by showing your young one that you trust the adult to love and care for your child and keep him or her safe in your absence: ‘I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.’ This doesn’t mean children will instantly feel the attachment, but the path towards that will be more illuminated.

To help them feel you holding on even when you aren’t with them, let them know you’ll be thinking of them and can’t wait to be with them again. I used to tell my daughter that every 15 seconds, my mind makes sure it knows where she is. Think of this as ‘taking over’ their worry. ‘You don’t have to worry about you or me because I’m taking care of both of us – every 15 seconds.’ This might also look like giving them something of yours to hold on to while you’re gone – a scarf, a note. You will always be their favourite way to safety, but you can’t be everywhere. Another loving adult or the felt presence of you will help them rest.
Sometimes it can be hard to know what to say or whether to say anything at all. It doesn’t matter if the ‘right’ words aren’t there, because often there no right words. There are also no wrong ones. Often it’s not even about the words. Your presence, your attention, the sound of your voice - they all help to soften the hard edges of the world. Humans have been talking for as long as we’ve had heartbeats and there’s a reason for this. Talking heals. 

It helps to connect the emotional right brain with the logical left. This gives context and shape to feelings and helps them feel contained, which lets those feelings soften. 

You don’t need to fix anything and you don’t need to have all the answers. Even if the words land differently to the way you expected, you can clean it up once it’s out there. What’s important is opening the space for conversation, which opens the way to you. Try, ‘I’m wondering how you’re doing with everything. Would you like to talk?’ 

And let them take the lead. Some days they’ll want to talk about ‘it’ and some days they’ll want to talk about anything but. Whether it’s to distract from the mess of it all or to go deeper into it so they can carve their way through the feeling to the calm on the other side, healing will come. So ask, ‘Do you want to talk about ‘it’ or do you want to talk about something else? Because I’m here for both.’ ♥️
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