How to talk to your kids about college admissions
Soon after a college admissions scandal that stretched from coast to coast, thousands of high school seniors across the country are learning whether they’ve been accepted by their desired institutions. It turns out that waiting period and pressure to attend the “right” school is causing some major anxiety among American teens.
“Studies are showing that more teens are reporting higher levels of stress than before largely due to expectations placed around school and academic performance,” says Dr. Gabrielle Roberts, a pediatric psychologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill.
While not all stress is bad and some can improve performance, Dr. Roberts says the excessive stress kids are experiencing today can hurt their nutrition habits, sleep quality and ability to concentrate. It also can lead to anxiety disorders and depression. Studies show that teens underestimate the negative physical and psychological impact of that stress, which can lead to serious consequences if not addressed.
“Parents and caregivers have the opportunity to step in and help their children cope during one of the most stressful times of the year when they accept or decline college offers,” says Dr. Roberts.
She offers some tips for talking to your future college student:
- Praise and value effort over outcomes: Applaud a well-done application regardless of the outcome. Focus on the hard work your child put into the application, and tell them how proud you are regardless of whether they are accepted by a particular school.
- Teach your child that there are multiple roads to success: Remind your child that success can be found at many different schools. Hard work and happiness are more important and more likely to lead to success than simply getting into a specific school.
- Provide support and encouragement for rejection: Validate your child’s feelings of frustration and disappointment if they’re not accepted by their dream school. Remind them that getting into college – especially top schools – is very competitive, and that sometimes, despite our best efforts, things don’t work out exactly as planned. Remind kids that other great options are still available and that you love them and are proud of them.
- Focus on the positive: Be a cheerleader and focus on what your child has achieved. Point out accomplishments outside of academics such as a great performance in the school play or how they’ve made new friends. Reinforce that the college admissions process is just one in a series of many life challenges.
- Set reasonable expectations: Acknowledge that the college admissions process is competitive and that all they can do is put their best application forward; the rest is out of their control.
- Offer guidance, but leave some room for choice: Deciding where to go to college may be one of the first big decisions your child has the opportunity to make, and it is a great time to help them gain confidence in their decision-making capabilities. Remember they will not see the world exactly as you do, and their aspirations may be different from yours. This doesn’t mean you can’t provide limits around decision making or use family finances and values to guide you towards options you deem acceptable, but within the range of agreed upon options, try to be open minded. Help your child examine options, talk about them in the context of their goals for college and help them come to a decision without being pushy.
- Model balance, stress management and self-care: Throughout the process, model the values you want your kids to embody when they leave the nest for college. Teens learn about healthy living from parents and guardians and will take healthy – and unhealthy – coping mechanisms with them as they enter college. Help your child maintain a healthy lifestyle that includes a healthy diet, exercise, plenty of sleep and social time. These habits are always important, but even more so during times of stress.
About the Author
Colette A. Harris, health enews contributor, is the public affairs and marketing coordinator at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Il. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and has nearly a decade of experience writing about health and wellness, which are her passions. When she’s not writing, you can find her practicing yoga, cooking, reading, or traveling.