F Grad_411158Last week I wrote about productive, character-building activities that families can do together during the summer to make life run more smoothly. One of the activities was looking into college options. Today I want to delve into that more deeply:

College is a big deal. It involves all kinds of “firsts,” depending on which college your teen chooses. It is not uncommon for kids to greet their first semester with enthusiasm and determination, and finish it in a state of frustration, confusion, regret and even depression. Below are three areas to explore before you and your teen dive into the college application process.

1. Is college right for your teen?

Before you enter into the college application process (a job in and off itself), it is worth asking whether your child, (each child individually, not collectively), is best served by attending college. This is not a question about his or her intelligence. It is a question about aptitude, capacity, preferences, and psychology. Children can have successful, meaningful lives without going to college. For these kids, college stifles, frustrates, or humiliates.
Further, there is not one “right” way to do college, nor is there one “right” college that will make or break your child’s future. There are different ways to attend college:

  • Full-time, straight out of high school, attending a two-year college
  • Full-time, straight out of high school, attending a four-year college
  • Part-time, in combination with a job
  • Full-time, after working for a while

My stepson left college after a year, and got a job booking appointments at a well-known salon/spa in our area. He worked his way up the corporate ladder and is now Accounting Manager, at 36 years old. He is back in school, almost done with his BS in Accounting, and he has straights As and the admiration of all his instructors and co-workers. Late bloomers. What can I say?

2. Clear out your own preconceptions about college.

Parents often unknowingly impose their own biases about college on their teens. Which of these sound familiar?

If my child goes to college…

  • He/she will be more successful.
  • He/she will have the opportunity to excel to a degree that I couldn’t.
  • I will feel like I’ve been a great parent.
  • It will be good for my reputation with my friends and acquaintances.
  • He/she will have an easy time because my child is gifted and teachers are more understanding and generous to gifted students.
  • It will build his/her character.
  • He/she will be living his/her dream.

The only one of these that is unreservedly and whole-heartedly about your teen is the last one. All the others, while well intentioned, are about you. As parents we always want to have our kids’ best interests at heart, but sometimes we’re a bit off base!

There is no success formula that college is a part of, unless your son or daughter is ready to manage his/her time responsibly while avoiding the distractions of unlimited freedom, unlimited booze and drugs, and unlimited stimulation.

My first year of college, to avoid the easy distractions and the call of my ADHD, I went to class and then headed for the library between classes, only breaking for meals and to sleep. I was like a super adult, but I SO wanted to be there. For me, it was a dream come true and I didn’t want that dream to end.

3. Teach your teen to know, trust, and love themselves.

Parents often ignore all or part of this process because we ourselves are lacking in these key areas. We have learned to get through life with a begrudging acceptance of ourselves, or at least an acceptance of how others see us. But has this made us happy?

We may have been taught by our own parents or grandparents or teachers that feeling good about yourself is frivolous, prideful, or condescending to others. In fact, feeling good about ourselves means we have more to contribute to the world, to our family, and to our lives.

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Teens often choose colleges that are wrong for them simply because their best friend, girlfriend, or favorite uncle loves that school or town. You can help your teen by asking these questions and helping him/her figure out the answers over an extended period of time:

  • Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
  • Do you thrive in a smaller or larger community (town or learning environment)?
  • Are you a conventional or unconventional thinker?
  • Do you thrive in independent learning environments or in groups?
  • Are you notably sensitive or emotional or do you adapt easily to change?

You may be reading these and feeling that one choice is preferable to the other. This is not true. That presupposition is based on cultural biases, our own limited experience and insecurities.
For instance, Americans tend to value extroverts and label introverts as “dysfunctional” or “nerdy” or “anti-social.” This is a prejudice; some of history’s greatest thinkers, movers and shakers have been introverts.

What your child will offer the world, what he or she will be able to build in him or herself is dependent on the ability to not only accept oneself but to value oneself. This is not ego or pride; it’s the realization that you were put on earth to share your gifts within a particular setting or community. None of us are supposed to be able to do everything, or even do what our friends and family do. We each have a talent, however, and that shouldn’t be ignored.

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It is crucial that we parents be available to encourage our teenagers by seeking to understand them rather than focusing on them understanding us; by listening to them first, and then talking.

I love that my mechanic is great at what he does. I don’t want a doctor who isn’t really into being a doctor buy it’s what her parents wanted her to do. And don’t get me started with parents who don’t even want to be parents. You can see the damage that can be caused – physically, mentally, and spiritually – if we push our kids to achieve in the areas WE want them to achieve.

We must take our egos out of these preparatory interactions so that we raise the adults our teens are meant to be. Teens who are misunderstood feel invisible, and teens that feel invisible will either shut down to confirm their invisibility or will act out dramatically so that they are noticed. Taking time to look at this process will save quite a bit of future family frustration.

Copyright 2016, Margit Crane Luria. All Rights Reserved.

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