How can parents help?

You know your son should not wait until the last minute to start his essay. You are certain that your daughter should study more for the tests she has to take. And your parental duty is to remind him or her every day, all day.

Or is it?

Parents always try to protect their children from making mistakes. As adults we know about the importance of working hard, thinking ahead and planning for success. Teenagers are only just beginning to understand these values, and they resist parents who give them constant advice. It’s frustrating for all involved.

How can parents help their children without alienating them? How can you do responsible parenting without making the application process even more stressful? There are not any easy answers or magic spells that will change teenage behavior. It takes patience and gentle encouragement to get students to think more like adults.

It helps to start the college search process early — before senior year — and to make a calendar of what is due and when. Let your child learn to take charge of the schedule. You can offer reminders rather than pressure. You can offer to assist by talking about essay ideas or helping your student construct a resume well in advance of deadlines. But be assured that the majority of students wait until sometime near the deadline to write that essay or finish that application. It may not be ideal, but it is truly normal.

Studying for admission tests is especially stressful for teens. Yes, they can improve scores by using practice tests, but you can assure them that tests are not the most important part of the admission decision. It is much more valuable for parents to encourage their children to do well in classes throughout high school. When test day comes, encourage them to get a good night’s sleep rather than cram all night for the tests. Make sure they have a good breakfast. And be sure to tell them how confident you are that they will do their best. Self-confidence is the best gift you can give.

Resist the urge to take over the whole process. Don’t fill out the application, don’t write the essay! When they get to the university, they will have to write their own term papers. Now is the time for them to start learning that responsibility. Guide them to that goal of self-awareness and personal accountability.

In the end, your role as a parent is to encourage and persuade rather than nag or punish. Teens care about their success but might pretend to be “cool” and unworried, especially in front of friends. Save your advice for private times when they might be more willing to accept advice and help. Again, your role is to nurture self-confidence by being steady, encouraging and non-judgmental. In the end, your young men and women will have the satisfaction of achieving an important goal through their own hard work.

This page is also available in: Spanish