1) Your kids are a lot more resilient than you think they are. Give them some faith and some credit. They will always appreciate this. The obsessive desire of many parents to protect their children from pain, hardship or unhappiness is making them less able to deal with setbacks that will inevitably come into their lives. I watch parents of preschool children doing puzzles. They cannot help themselves from giving hints to their kids to help them solve the puzzle: “How about that piece? Do you think that will work in that spot?” Sometimes it takes the form of a terse e-mail (complete with capitalized, bolded words and carbon copies) or phone calls about how “angry” they are about a situation that is “unacceptable” because their child “must” have a certain teacher, get a certain grade, or be allowed some privilege that is not available to others. If something is important for your child, let them advocate for themselves. You’d be surprised at how much more effective it is than for you to jump to aid and protect them when hardship comes.
2) It is wrong to think that there is something wrong with your child whenever they do not perform up to your expectations. Every child has strengths and weaknesses; value and nourish their strengths and challenge them to confront their weaknesses. It seems to have become more fashionable to seek accommodations to account for every weakness a child has, to have the world change to accommodate what your child cannot do well. It is tough to determine the difference between a disabling condition and a weakness. Is this something your child cannot do, is not willing to do or does not like to do? Unless there is overwhelming evidence that the first is true, act on the latter two.
3) You cannot find a passion for your child; you can just nourish it. Sometimes you set out conditions that your child takes to. My oldest son took to athletics, something I could share with him. I got to spend lots of time with him coaching him and ferrying him to practices and tournaments. My youngest came to my first practice and let me know he would never return. He has discovered that he loves singing and acting and now attends a school with a specialty in the arts, an area way out of my ken. But I am learning about singing and acting from him, something that is as joyful as teaching him.
4) 15-year-olds discover something that 14-year-olds do not know: that there is nothing you can do to make them do what you want them to do. Once they make that discovery, everything changes. They will do everything they can to show you the new found power they have. You can take away everything, their phone, their computer, their games and they will stay in their room and count the dots in the ceiling tiles just to prove that you cannot make them do anything. When they are out of your sight, they will do everything you had told them presented a danger. The lesson: give your children the freedom to learn from their mistakes, be strict where it matters, and treat them with trust and respect before they turn from compliant to defiant.
5) Your children will find the right college for them….if you let them. If you once say or even think that “we” are in the college process, you are doing it wrong. You can only discover, not decide, that a small college is right for your child. Take advantage of opportunities to expand knowledge and options. Drive through different college campuses during vacations. Ask questions when your child becomes a junior. Do you think you’d be more comfortable with a larger college? Do you think you want to be close to home? If you find yourself about to say “I think you should go into engineering,” get yourself a stiff drink or go work out.
6) Your child’s counselor is your ally. It is in no one’s best interest to make this relationship adversarial. Your child’s counselor is like your lawyer or your financial advisor: they are advocates. You should use them for advice or perspective. A good counselor will go to the mat to get what your child needs. There can be a lot of confusion discerning what you want from what your child needs. Have your child’s counselor help bridge that gap. If you remain stuck on what you want, you may move further and further from getting what your child needs.
7) Whenever the “college talk” begins in your family, limit it to one night a week. When the college process starts, it sometimes feels like a light switch goes on. You now have a chance to take matters into your own hands to have one last opportunity to control their future and ensure their success. Before the college process: “How was school?” “Fine.” After the college process begins: “So when are you going to take your SAT’s?” “Did you begin those essays yet?” What SAT prep course do you want to take?” And on and on. It becomes overwhelming and will distance you more from your child. Let your child produce a time frame for completing what needs to done and use that one night a week to let them tell you of their progress.
8) Character matters. Scruples matter. Integrity matters. You pass these on to your children and they will be ready for life. In every situation with your children, you need to model these things. In sports, don’t question the decisions of the coach or the referee. In school, let the teacher teach and become a partner with the teacher, not an adversary. Be honorable, respectful and value any opportunity to demonstrate that you can be tough and resolute without being rude or disrespectful.
9) It is not okay to apply different moral standards to actions that involve you protecting your family than you would apply in other situations. Frequently, parents use language with in schools that they would never use in any other professional situation. The reason they give is always the same: they are protecting their children. Sometimes it comes with different language, like they want to make sure that their child has every advantage. The effect is the same, a level of aggressiveness that would be inappropriate in virtually any other situation but is considered okay in defense of their children.
10) Your child may not like school, but they may still love learning. Foster this. More schooling frequently comes with the advantage of more options in life. A high school degree was, in the past, an entry credential for many jobs and now, with more students in college and fewer jobs available, a college education is more frequently a credential for entry level positions. But school is not an inherent good. Many highly successful individuals never completed college, or even high school. It is great when students love school and do well at it, but a child is not a failure if they do not. Discover what makes them learn and explore and create conditions where they can practice this. This frequently can lead to success in the future more than success in a school environment.
11) The college admissions process is a good time to practice giving up control of your children. Adult age is not just a number. It is a time when children start learning to make decisions for themselves and learn how to protect and take care of themselves. Every bone in your body may say that this is the last opportunity to protect and guide and share the pearls of wisdom that your child has ignored for the previous 17 years. Fight it! Step back and get out of the way. Provide support and encouragement. Be there when they need you. Practice NOT saying anything when you see that things are not going as you think they should. You will be surprised at what your children can accomplish with your confidence and support.
12) Stop worrying about the college your child is going to go to and start worrying about the world that they are entering. To be successful in today’s world, people need to be constantly learning, growing and adapting. A single credential will not ensure success. The ability to adapt and grow will. Most people will change jobs eight or more times and careers 3 or more times. Most spend only a couple of years in their first job out of college, with future jobs dependent on their skills rather than their credentials.