Managing College Admission Decisions: A Guide for Sidecar Parents


Helicopter, bulldozer, snowplow, tugboat, velcro, tiger and now drone, these are all derogatory labels we use to describe today’s over-involved and sometimes aggressive parents. Over the course of two decades as a school counselor, I have witnessed these styles of raising children and many others, some productive and some less. However, I am not a fan of such derogatory terms, because the reality is that parents love their children. It is this love, and the hopes and fears it arouses, that motivate parents’ actions.

I often feel more like a family therapist than a college counselor. I help students and parents overcome these hopes and fears, and manage the expectations and relationships that can become fraught with the complicated dynamics of applying to college and planning for life in- beyond high school. It is easy, when one is removed from the emotion and attachment of a parent, to examine these approaches to raising children with perspective and objectivity. However, as a parent of a high school student who will learn in two weeks whether he or she was admitted to their first choice of universities, it all looks and feels a lot different.

In 1692, William De Britaine wrote: “He who will be his own Advisor will be sure to have a Fool for his Client”. This claim has been applied to many professions over the centuries and it still holds true to this day. So, as I put on my father’s hat, I turned to the experts who have researched, worked with, and written about parents to offer some wisdom to families facing college admissions decisions.

Psychotherapist Lynn Lyons is co-author of “Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents: 7 Ways To Stop The Worry Cycle And Raise Courageous, Independent Kids,”And co-host of the Flusterclux podcast. She says, “As early acceptances and rejections begin to happen, we need to be keenly aware of the dangerous message that there is a path to success, that these decisions – made by an institution that doesn’t even know your child – define a future for the adolescent. She adds, “A rigid, all-or-nothing mindset among high performing students and parents absolutely fuels anxiety and depression in adolescents, so here is an opportunity for parents to respond with perspective and flexibility. Lyons asks, “How will you let your teenager know you understand disappointment, but how will you also show him the ability to tolerate strong emotions, to recover (over time) from disappointment and rejection, and to adjustments as he grows? She points out that “these are huge life skills and it’s our job to teach them. ”

Jessica Lahey is the author of New York Times bestselling book, “The gift of failure: How the best parents learn to let go so their children can be successful” and “Substance Abuse Inoculation: Raising Healthy Children in a Culture of Addiction. “ She is also the mother of a high school student who, like my son, is awaiting a decision following an early request. Her eldest son is about to graduate from college and is attending high school. Lahey says, “It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to him. He was very attached to his school of early decision making, so excited about it, and when he was rejected he was devastated. She explains that “once he started to focus on his other choices, he found that his second choice was actually a better choice.” She adds, “He needed some distance from the pink light that he had seen this top pick since the day he walked onto campus. With his second son, Lahey says, “We have prepared for either eventuality by discussing alternative options – gap year, year of work, assistance to his replacement for one year and transfer – all are in order. great interesting options that will give it an experience in itself. advocacy. “On December 15th,” she said, “we’ll either have a celebratory dinner or a dinner where we’ll talk about the benefits of having more choice once you get to see the whole playing field, all the acceptances and rejections in hand. “She adds,” Everything will be fine, kid. “

Rick Clark, Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Georgia Tech, emphasizes the importance of moving from “parent to partner” when our children apply to college. He says, “Before admissions decisions are made, I hope parents will focus on college names, their own personal hopes, and the recent build-up of emotion or anticipation, and instead consider the time, effort and shared experiences that have led to this point. Clark adds, “By doing this whether a student is admitted, deferred or refused, he will be ready to celebrate, to sympathize or just to love and support.”

Denise Pope is one of the founders of Success of the challenge, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the Stanford Graduate School of Education. She highlights two strategies for parents when supporting their college applicants:

  • “We recommend that teens open college emails privately rather than finding out in class in the middle of the school day or asking a parent to stream it live on social media. If the news isn’t good, your teen may need some support and time to grieve, and they’ll likely follow your reaction, too. As a parent, consider going to a room separate from your teen after hearing the news, so you can celebrate or grieve on your own and have a few moments to regulate your emotions.
  • “Remind teens that where they go is less important than what they do when they get there. We do not say this lightly. Research supports that college engagement is more important than where a student goes. While choosing a college might seem like a monumental decision, we encourage teens (and parents) to realize that this choice is not going to make or break their chances for future success. To learn more about this research and what college engagement looks like, explore the Challenge Success white paper, An “adjustment” in relation to rankings: why college engagement matters more than rankings. “

Richard Weissbourd agrees. He is the faculty director of Making Caring Common, a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is the lead author of the Turning the Tide Report, a collaborative statement by college admissions officials that seeks to reduce the pressure on success, emphasize ethical commitment, and level the playing field. college admission game. He is also the author of “The Parents We Want to Be: How Well-meaning Adults Undermine Children’s Moral and Emotional Development”. honest and helpful conversations with their children every step of the way in the college admissions process. He adds: “Parents need to ask themselves to what extent their own hopes and needs overlap with what is best for their child: their own worries about their status, their feelings of competition with other parents, their belief that the the college their child attends is a clear and public reflection of their success as parents, of their hopes that their child will achieve their particular dreams or make up for their shortcomings.

Jenifer Lippincott is the author of “7 Things Your Teenager Won’t Tell You: And How To Talk About It Anyway.” She explains that “for more years than we want to count, and often beyond consciousness, our conversations with our children have pointed to college. Whether it’s extracurricular activities, summers, grades, class choices, family history, personal experiences, these conversations often turn to college preparation or anticipation. And then, as if suddenly decisions land, sometimes with a thud, other times with a celebratory fanfare. Whether we find ourselves exactly where we hope or in a less desirable situation, Lippincott offers the following thoughts:

  • “No matter how much sweat, toil and angst we put into the college application process, we are not the ones who embark on this journey. All the leadership, the huggings and the leadership helped them get there. But only they or they walk the halls and write the papers. Just as they needed balance to learn to ride a bike, if you don’t let go, they won’t learn to stand up on their own.
  • “While it’s possible that the choice they make might not be the best in the end (especially in our opinion), it will remain one of their most monumental to this day. Ask any successful leader. if he has learned more from his successful decisions or from his wrong decisions Invariably they will cite the stumbles Why? Because they provided an opportunity to learn and move forward. isn’t it one of the most important? (And anyway, that gives us another opportunity to provide direction.) ”
  • “If we honestly think about our own paths to college, they quickly lose importance compared to the others that follow. So why oversize it for our own children? To quote Malcolm Gladwell, “When I look at a resume, I ask them to black out the names of the schools they attended. I do not want to know. I do not care. I’m interested in you. I’m interested in what you think and do and what books you read. ‘”

A new nickname

Maybe we need to reframe the parenting paradigm. A sidecar seems to be a more apt metaphor for where we should be as parents – not plowing, pulling, dozing or hovering – but along the ride and certainly not driving. We can point out potential dangers on the road and offer our advice, but ultimately it’s up to them to decide where our kids choose to go. Whether they crash or are sailing, we will also feel the impact, but we have a little bit of separation and the ability to be by their side with support and love. As I put on my dad’s helmet, experience tells me that my son will be successful regardless of his college admission news this month. The opportunities will present themselves as long as he keeps his eyes on the road, and that’s what we’ve taught him. Whether admitted or denied, we will celebrate or deal together and move forward.


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