A time of acute stress is when teens are searching for a college to attend. It’s so easy to harbor thoughts that promote anxiety and stress. However, just like one can change out of an uncomfortable pair of pants, one can swap out painful (and usually irrational) thoughts for ones that promote peace (and are usually more rational). Here are my favorite 10 coping thoughts for this situation.
1. It’s impossible to visit all the schools that might be a good fit for your child. There are over 7,000 institutions of higher learning in the United States (and it can sometimes feel like about half of them are sending your kid email or snail mail). Better to set a number to visit and know that this means you’ll be leaving many, many good schools out.
2. It’s okay to not know how it’s all going to work out. This is such a complex, long and draining process. Who the heck knows what will happen? It’s certainly possible to fill in the uncertainly with epic worrying. However, think about this: did you ever have another time in your life when you had no clue how something very important was going to turn out? Didn’t it usually end up working out okay, even if there were some bumps and bruises along the way? If Vegas were involved, the smart money would be on that it’s all going to work out fine.
3. It is very rare for a human to do his or her best job at anything over a sustained period of time. Your teen is either on point for this process, or co-authoring the lead with you. This means that s/he is probably sometimes procrastinating, sometimes breaking deadlines and sometimes not exerting sufficient effort. It’s important to remember that we are all like this, at least some of the time, even with important projects. Forgetting this can cause some pretty intense and unhelpful conflicts.
4. There is no such thing as THE ideal school for your child. As you do college campus tours notice the percentage of kids at that school who state that they are very happy with their choice. Sure, they’ll sometimes talk the marketing talk (i.e., this is THE BEST SCHOOL EVER IN THE UNIVERSE). But, either all but one of those groups of kids are correct, or, most kids end up liking where they go.
5. If you don’t have the money, you don’t have the money…though it can take a while to figure that out. I was recently doing a tour of a campus and calculated that the sticker price, across four years, including all ancillary fees, added up to about a quarter of a million dollars. (Good thing I wasn’t eating any food at the time or I’d have choked on it.) We parent-lunatics are disposed to think that our only two choices are 1. To give our baby what s/he wants and have him/her be happy, in which case we are a good parent or 2. To not give our baby what s/he wants, have him or her be miserable and have us both be failures. I have to laugh to myself because even blogging child psychologists are vulnerable to this type of thinking.
6. Affluence has little to do with happiness. The research indicates that once you know that a person has enough money to take care of his or her basic needs (e.g., shelter, clothing, food, medical care), knowing how much additional money that person has won’t tell you much about how happy that person is. While what institution a kid graduates from might sometimes affect future socio-economic status, I’ve never seen research affiliating graduating from a particular institution with happiness (and, believe me, if such research existed, that institution would be doing a full court press in the media about it!).
7. Your child is likely going to have criteria that seem stupid to you, and that’s okay. You’re probably focused on things like cost, return-on-investment, and the breath and depth of opportunities that the faculty can provide. However, your kid may be focused on how the greenery looks, the range of food offerings, the size of the showers and what bands played there in recent years. Maddening I know, but getting upset over that, or trying to get your kid to not be a kid, is as feckless as trying to vacuum all dust mites out of your home.
8. The school a kid attends tells you nearly nothing about the quality of his or her parenting. I find that many of we parent-lunatics subscribe to this, albeit often without much awareness. “She could only get into schools whose admission standards are a pulse and the ability to write a check that doesn’t bounce, so I must have not done a good job as a parent.” “He got into an Ivy league school, so I deserve applause from the audience.” However, in my experience, judging the quality of parenting based on the school a kid gets into is about like judging the quality of a marriage based on the car(s) the couple drives.
9. It’s okay for your child to go to a university and have zero clue what s/he wants to do for a career. I’m not saying that every kid graduating high school is ready enough, and mature enough, to make decent use of a college education. But, among those who are ready to go, it is common to feel a lot of confusion about which vocation to pursue. That’s what taking courses and speaking with faculty can help with. Moreover, many universities offer career counseling at no additional charge.
10. It’s normative to feel freaked out about all of this. In the past few months I’ve told just about anyone who would listen that the process of college searching makes me feel like a toddler, in a wet diaper, all alone, in downtown Manhattan, during rush hour. I’ve since figured out that most parents going through this process feel similarly, at least at the start. And, most parents who are on the other side of it (i.e., whose kids have since graduated from college), say that they worried for naught…of course, they are now onto other worries…This parenting, it is not an open wound?
Anyway, good luck to you and your progeny!
Hi David, before actually reading your post, I could have guessed what stage of parenting you are in! And reading it, of course, I saw that you admitted you are in the throws of that which you are writing about. Having been through it once already, myself, I endorse all the pointers you provided. And I applaud you for being able to see them even as you go through the process! I was just saying to a high school teacher (with whom I was meeting for the parent-teacher’s conference regarding my younger daughter) who is in the midst of the process with her own son, that it is not a process that is linear or that can be described how to do–even after having been through it. Everyone seems to be finding their way! And we probably will be feeling similarly the second time around when it comes. I did tell her that there is not one school that is right; there are many that are a wonderful fit. It really is so easy to fall into thinking, from what the schools all say in their “information” (read, “marketing”) sessions why they ARE the perfect fit, to thinking that, if I just do this right, I will find the one perfect school (or that how to get my kid into what I/we have determined what is the “perfect” one). And I assured her that it is not only her son who is procrastinating and acting as if they aren’t in the midst of a major project (while the parents sprout new gray hairs!). Another issue that I think is operating at times is parents going through this process as if they were the one who is going to be taking advantage of this wonderful opportunity (in a better way than, perhaps, they had done when they actually were at that age!). That really muddies the waters, too. It comes at a time, for parents, when they may be re-evaluating what they have done in their lives, so it is an easy time for falling into blurring the boundaries between who is who and whose life is this! Just my thoughts. I wish you all the best as you go through this. From my perspective, it is a wonderful time for celebrating what things lie ahead for our child–and for the benefits the world will gain from our child’s participation in it. Then….(sorry there are more stages ahead; the “open wound” to which you refer)…comes facing the reality that this is a transition for the whole family!f (And it’s not just the first year, when they first take off…). Take good care,Marianne Marianne Herzog, Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist (PA, NJ) 555 Andorra Glen Court, Suite 4 Lafayette Hill, PA 19444 610-825-5774 “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”(author unknown)
“Psychological News You Can Use”–sign up for Pennsylvania Psychological Association’s free e-newsletter at: http://www.papsy.org/index.php/psychological-news-you-can-use/
Thank you for such a wonderful and kind reflection Marianne. I appreciate it!