At the College Advisor of New York, our initial consultation usually involves the entire family. Often, this includes younger brothers and sisters, anxious to see what all the “fuss” is surrounding the word “college” and sometimes extended family, such as grandparents, who are supporting their family, either financially or emotionally. Regardless of the group that gathers, there is always one constant: the anxiety level of the parents. It is written on their faces – especially when it is their first child embarking on the search process. As counselors, we’ve helped thousands of families through this and each year it becomes more important than the last to speak directly to parents: How best to be there for your child without inhibiting their need to grow and take responsibility for themselves.
There are few things in life that are a given- one of them is that children grow up. And, if you’ve done your job well, your children will embrace their future and their independence with self assuredness and confidence. As painful as it is (and it is painful) to watch your children leave, there is a satisfaction in knowing that you raised them with the ability to tackle the next step. However, all too often we find parents have more trouble with this part of our process than any other. In the middle of junior year, our clients typically attend Dean’s “Parent Workshop.” This is a session focused totally on what the parents are going through. And as counselors, we understand. We all have children, most of us with a few already in college, so we practice what we preach. The goal of this workshop is to express just how important it is to let children “own” this process. We say it again and again: “this is not your college search process . . . it is your child’s.” Is it a partnership? Yes. But there is no better time to let kids learn to take ownership and act on their own behalf than within the realm of the search for their college. We tell parents – “let your children communicate with us directly” – they should be responding to their coaches, not parents. Our first 2-3 meetings are 1:1 with students for a reason. We want to hear their voices and learn who they are and what they think. No matter what we as parents want to believe, children are not candid when we are sitting next to them. Are there times we all meet as a family – of course – quite a few. But much of our road map requires students to speak for themselves – and it is one of the most crucial components of their process of self-discovery. After all, next year these students will be on their own. When parents attempt to steer the course, the process becomes complicated and this makes it much more difficult for students to develop into young adults. If they are unable to do so, they are less likely to gain a sense of self understanding, which in turn, makes it much more difficult to find a college that’s a great match for who they are. So it’s crucial for parents to understand that while they should be involved in every aspect of the college admissions process, they should let the student be the quarterback.
We sometimes share a poem with parents by Kahlil Gibran called “On Children” – the opening line of which is “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts.” That is what we love to see, children with their own thoughts lovingly supported by their parents and family. This creates a healthy child and gives them the best chance at an independent and successful future.