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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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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