Parenting an adolescent through senior school and college can be challenging for the most mindful and dedicated parents – as well as for the most laid back. As a counsellor, I have seen parents deal with this every year, learning from every parents’ insights, successes and mistakes.
As my twins enter college this year, things have reached a full circle – with my old clients advising me on how to help my children through college!
I have put together these insights into five best practices that I have seen working well over the years.
Help your adolescent child own their goals
“Love is a better master than duty.” Einstien is quoted as saying. College is going to be tough even for the brightest student, and victory lies with those who can push themselves and stay the course. And the most self-motivated students are those who are working for their own goals, rather than to please a parent.
Parents can help a student discover their path through exploration, self-discovery and research.
Setting up internships through personal networks, having conversations, even watching movies, videos and podcasts helps get some clarity. “Allow your child to be true to themselves. After class 12, wherever she goes, she needs to be happy about it,” says Manu Dua, parent of Arshiya Dua admitted to Barnard College in Columbia University, New York.
Owning the decision on college and course also prepares them to deal with potential challenges and failures. This makes them develop a sense of responsibility for themselves – and avoids blame games when things go wrong – as they often do!
Make and track schedules together
Managing time is the biggest challenge as the demands on a student’s energy grows – entrance tests, SATs, internal exams, internships, self-led projects and leadership roles in school. Build, following, tracking and adjusting schedules gives students a sense of control, makes tasks more achievable, and helps them balance work with fitness, friends, and fun activities.
Too many activities on the college application journey can exhaust the most driven students, and parents can also help students pick the most meaningful goals, and drop activities that drain time without adding much value to their profile or mental relaxation!
However, here parents run the risk of annoying and stressing out their children by micro-managing their time. The best way to avoid this is by asking enabling questions like, “What works best for you?”, “how can you handle that” and “what did you do well this week?”
“I find that one of the best ways to motivate the child is to walk the talk. Set a goal for yourself and share- make it a conversation point with your adolescent. Talk about the daily accomplishments and challenges,” says Anjana Anand, mother of an engineering graduate from Cambridge, and a global geodeisgn major at USC, California.
Appreciate small wins
Positive reinforcement has been proven to be most effective in motivating students to build behaviours that reach their goals. This takes observing your young adult’s behaviour and pointing out instances of effective behaviour – genuine praise like, “I enjoyed watching you have fun with your friends,”, “I like the fact that you finished your homework before the party,” “your Economics marks reflect the regular study you have done for this subject,” and even – “I like how you argue!”
Appreciation makes your teenager see that you are on their side and feel safer in opening up with their questions, self-doubt or fears. And that gives you an opportunity to guide them to find their own solutions. “I’m sure you will be able to find what works best for you – what are you trying currently?”
Build realistic college lists – set them up for success!
Parental peer pressure is a real thing and parents often start pushing their children beyond their capacity as the names of Ivy Leagues and other top colleges start entering the discussions at parties among senior school parents. As adults, however, we know that success is a long-term story and can be found in many colleges, companies and careers.
Parents who help their kids aim for dream and target colleges that are only a small stretch beyond their demonstrated capacity create “positive tension,” motivating students to work at a sustainable pace. Creating a sense of success during senior school boosts self-esteem and sets the stage for future successes for students.
Aiming very high and expecting a big stretch creates the risk of exam anxiety and burnout. “It has to be in line with what they are, what their personalities reflect, because colleges see how committed you are,” advises Shail Talwar, mother of Aryan Shiv Talwar, currently pursuing aeronautical engineering at McGill University.
Plan visits to prospective colleges like a family outing. Most universities also offer virtual campus tours that the family can take together. This will make the whole experience more enjoyable, and help the student visualise their future and work towards it with excitement. Encourage your kid to lead college exploration and find answers to the “why” – why this course, why this college, why this country? Support them to connect with existing students and role models in their target colleges and careers. Motivate them to reach out to and keep in touch with admission officers.
Keep your head – stay cool
Parents’ Educational Anxiety is a real thing and having been through it with twins, I have the deepest empathy for parents going through this. Yet I have learnt that parental anxiety only creates stress for the child and has little positive impact.
As always, parents need to demonstrate a sense of control over the situation and over themselves, rather than getting involved in shouting matches or creating a sense of doom in the family. Children (that includes young adults) sense anxiety easily. Every frown, shout and moment of panic gets registered into their minds.
I encourage parents to seek therapy themselves if they find their anxiety rubbing off on the child. Some mindfulness and meditation will help you maintain your sense of balance and continue to have fun with your child, instead of turning into a task-master.
“Always remember that the most important thing about this journey should be to empower your child.” Richa Sabharwal, mother of Aashman Sabharwal, attending Ashoka University for Politics, Philosophy and Economics in the fall.
Above all these strategies, though, it is key to recognise that each child is different and may find something challenging that others find easy – or may sail through a situation that your first kid was stressing about. The challenge is to be the best parent for each child – a bit like being God, I feel, but it’s worth trying!
The writer is Founder and CEO, Inomi Learning, a Gurugram-based career and college guidance firm. firstname.lastname@example.org
The original article was first published in ‘The Hindu’ on June 17th, 2023.
With inputs from Kamalika Chowdhurey.
Richa Dwivedi Saklani is a certified coach from UCLA and is an accredited MBTI trainer who has worked with over 10,000 people across career planning and as a behavioral trainer in companies. She is the CEO & Founder of Inomi Learning and author of “The Ultimate Guide to 21st Century Careers”.