Parenting AdviceIs My Kid Ready for College

The response to last week’s session notes blew me away! Thank you to everyone who took the time to send me a note, asked me to add someone and for those who forwarded it. I also had requests for topics, so as they come up, I will write about them. Until then, let’s dive into what is happening in my private practice- a look ahead into college.

I have been seeing Linda and Keith’s son, Evan, for about two years. I started seeing him when he was a freshman full of angst, insecurities and uncertainty. Today he is a junior, about a foot taller and full of what appears to be confidence. He just finished up college tours and we are starting to have the next stage of conversations. Where to go, how to pay for it and the question on his parent’s minds, “Is he ready?”

Last week, I had a really touching family session in which Linda teared up and she asked, “have we done everything? Have we been too hard? Have we not been hard enough?” I sat with them as I witnessed Evan’s parents beginning to go through a new stage of parenting. Now they are the ones filled with angst, insecurity and uncertainty.

As I wrote my notes later that evening I reflected on my years of going through this with other families. My thoughts about this question lead me to two places. First, when they ask, “Is my kid ready?” it often really means, “have I been a good parent?” And second, if your child is not ready, is does not necessarily mean you have not parented them well.

I want to point out that whether your child is accepted into college (or their college of choice) is not an indicator that they are ready for college. In Evan’s case, we have been going through a process with him to best guide him for his future. Here are some of the take-aways from what we have been doing.

1. We started in his Freshman year discussing whether or not college even interested him. As hard as it was for his parents to suggest to him that he may not need a higher education, they did it because the research shows that students who want to attend college do better than those who were forced or felt they had no choice.

2. We have been observing how Evan deals with setbacks. Of course, mistakes are a part of high school life but we have been discussing how he has handled disappointments with friends, poor test scores, not being selected on teams and breakups with girlfriends. Nearly half of American freshman do not return back to their college for sophomore year, assessing Evan’s emotional intelligence and his resiliency has been a key factor in the talks about whether he is ready to go off to college next year.

3. Becoming more independent has been a struggle for Evan. At this age and stage, his parents are expecting him to be able to regulate his needs like appetite, bathing, laundry and filling up his car with gas. Observing whether Evan could show discipline in taking care of his own needs, advocating for himself with teachers and knowing when to ask his parents for help have been huge in determining whether he seems on the right path to start college at age eighteen. Time management has been one of the biggest hurdles in Evan’s case, he seems to struggle to have a sense of when to stop playing video games, making curfew and how long to study for.

There are other factors we are considering in this case. I continue to encourage Evan’s parents that it is not too late to guide him simply because he rolls his eyes and thinks he knows everything! Where we stand with Evan at this point is he is only going to apply to schools where he can defer for a year if accepted. We feel this is a good safeguard and a year between high school and college, often referred to as a Gap Year, can be very helpful for teens who are not quite ready yet.

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