It’s midnight on the night before my son’s college applications are due and we’re huddled in his room editing his essays. How did this happen? I thought we started far enough in advance! But my son is an expert at procrastination and the pressure of the college search process made it even worse. I wasn’t sure how much to hover and how much to push. So here we are, 24 hours away from his deadline, with more than a dozen essays to double-check. Aaaaah!
Applying to colleges is an incredibly stressful venture for teens and parents. Let’s break it down….
First, there are the existential questions for the teen: Where do I want to be for the next four years of my life? What do I want to be when I grow up? How do I compare to my peers? Am I good enough?
Then there’s the process itself: Standardized tests, essays, letters of recommendation, financial aid, and scholarship applications, college visits, deadlines…. Need we say more?
Plus, this is the exact time during the developmental process when adolescents are beginning to differentiate themselves from their parents. It is a natural process that every child must go through, yet it gets tangled up in the college decision in a way that can often be painful for teens and parents.
Finally, let us not forget that many teens these days suffer from anxiety and depression under “normal” circumstances. It is vital that we monitor the mental health of our children as they go through this process, making sure that they do not push themselves, and we do not push them, so hard that it threatens their mental health.
So how can we help reduce the anxiety and stress of this time for our teen, knowing that this will also help to prevent procrastination? Here are 10 suggestions:
- Every teen is different. Knowing your child will help you determine their best path on this journey.
- Start early! Reducing the stress of deadlines makes everything easier.
- It’s all about balance. It is OK to push your child through the process but you need to make sure you don’t push so too hard. This line will be different for every teen. One way to tell how they’re doing is to check whether they are sleeping, eating, and socializing according to their normal patterns.
- Get organized! Make lists! Break larger tasks into smaller tasks and give your child credit for every small task that is achieved. Remember that you get an endorphin rush just by checking something off the list!
- Be honest about the anxiety. Allow your teen to tell you which parts of the process are making them anxious and which parts of the process seem fine for them. Then support them through the parts where they need help.
- Talk about the big questions with your teen. You don’t have to know the answers, and in fact, it’s important that you model that none of us know all the answers. Just engaging in conversation in an open and supportive way will let your child know we all engage in this type of philosophical reflection throughout our lives.
- Stow your baggage. If you are overly concerned that your child attends your own alma mater or you are concerned that the school your child attends will affect your status with your own peers, it’s time for you to take a step back. You are not getting into college – your child is – and this needs to be about them, not you.
- It’s all about values. Teach your teen that their applications should reflect the best of your family’s values, including integrity and honesty.
- There is not just one perfect school. There are many best-fit schools for each teen and most teens will find a way to be successful no matter which school they attend.
- Ask for help if you need it – from your school’s counselor, from a college counselor, from local college representatives, or from parents who have already gone through the process. You are not alone!
You and your teen can do this! Soon you will find yourself on the other side and all you will have to worry about is what new clothes and dorm room decorations your teen will want you to buy for their first days of school!