What if parenting could be outsourced? What if there was an interactive college admissions roadmap? The first thing I do when I get in the car is turn on the Waze navigation app. No matter how long the trip is, it’s my companion for smooth travel. More times than I can count, it has helped me chart the best course – avoiding crashes, speed traps, potholes, wild animals and other road hazards. What if teenage parents had such a tool? What if, in these uncertain times of global pandemic and educational disruption, there was a similar resource to guide us through college admissions – to help us avoid the pitfalls of parenthood?
It turns out there’s a growing community of parents and caregivers sharing the journey, drawing on each other’s wisdom as they navigate life with teens and young adults. In 2016, Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa Heffernan co-founded grown and stolen as a means of continuing a conversation that had taken place on a Facebook page on the education of adolescents and college students. The next year People magazine included both mothers and writers (with a delivered this fall), among their25 women changing the world in 2017“, with personalities like Pink, Kathy Bates, Brené Brown, Maria Shriver, Jessica Alba and Jane Goodall. Four years later, their group has grown to include over 165,000 members and half a million subscribers with over 3 million posts, comments and reactions in a month (not counting those just watching). It has become a forum for meaningful interaction, rich discussions, and what Heffernan describes as “the biggest inflection point” – advice on college admissions.
At a time when admissions policies and practices are changing almost daily, it’s a challenge for adults who support college applicants to make sense of it all. At the same time there seems to be a lack of information and too much noise – parents and carers don’t know where to start. Although Grown and Flyn does not claim to offer academic or admissions expertise, it does provide a vehicle through which people can share their experiences and explore how they might be of use to others. Of course, the conversations are wide-ranging — from everything that’s best, to mattress toppers in dorms, to information about college financial aid. Increasingly, Grown and Flyn has made an intentional effort to bring the voice and perspective of thought leaders to the world of college admissions.
Unlike some forums that can quickly turn negative or fuel misinformation, Heffernan describes the group’s culture as “positive, helpful, upbeat, and supportive.” There are seven moderators who see everything that happens in the chat and remove posts that are not in line with this culture and the rules for participation which state, “We facilitate friendly, respectful and non-judgmental chat.” The Facebook group has a “what gets said here, stays here” ethos and the rules are clear:
● No politics
● No selling, self-promotion or promotion of others
● No asking for money, contest votes or likes.
● No surveys, Go Fund Me sites, petitions, PayPal, Venmo or other fundraising links, or contests that require members to vote.
● Be nice
● No proselytizing or prayer requests
● Family and college travel themes only
● No messages about household goods and services
● No medical diagnosis or medication by name
● No hate speech or intimidation
● Respect everyone’s privacy
Although the Facebook group is private, anyone can request to be a member. Grown and Flyn also facilitates a public Facebook page that hosts live events with experts on everything from financial aid, admission and testing, to empathy, anxiety and resilience. Additionally, the group has a website and a weekly newsletter with articles on current topics for parents of teens and young adults, both practical (what to pack for college) and philosophical (the idea of ”letting go”).
For many parents and students, the group has been a lifeline over the past few months to stay home and adapt to a global pandemic. When campuses suddenly closed while many students were on spring break or overseas, parents in the group connected with support. A family in Hawaii with a student attending college in Oregon even relied on platform connections who lived near the college and went to help clean a dorm and ship their belongings to the House. Members shared constructive advice on what worked and didn’t work with online education, and some parents arranged for their students to volunteer as tutors for struggling high schoolers with less access to teachers and counselors. . It was particularly useful for orientation on university admission. Grown and Flyn has hosted webinars with admissions deans and financial aid experts, which have been invaluable resources for anxious parents wondering about standardized testing, altered grading practices, and missed opportunities for their children are involved as planned.
When student admissions programs were canceled in the spring, parents posted requests such as “my child has been accepted to university X, is there a student at this school who would be willing to connect?” Other messages request resources based on their child’s specific interests and needs. Parents want to know if certain colleges offer strong support for students with learning differences or if certain campus communities are safe. Within the group, threads have also been created by the state for members to explore colleges in these areas.
Raising a young adult is not for the faint of heart, and Heffernan describes approaching college admission as a parent like having a newborn. She says, “You don’t know how to parent, it’s a big transition from parenting to college. How practical should you be? You are told to let go but how do you support them while leaving them to fend for themselves? She adds, “It helps to talk to other parents and get advice. It’s a place to find answers to questions you didn’t even know you had.
There is comfort in this collective wisdom as challenges arise, and it is also a space to simply celebrate with other caregivers. The proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” has been attributed to several African cultures and this spirit is alive and well in this online community. Call it crowdsourcing, guidance or simply mutual encouragement and reassurance – in a space that can often be daunting and filled with anxiety, Grown and Flyn has gradually become an invaluable resource for any adult looking to love and support her children in their unique and personal lives. admissions experience.