Sunday, August 11, 2013

“Testing” a new relationship with your high school senior—toward adult autonomy

Forget re-taking SAT and ACT tests in the fall . . . I’ve realized I need to focus more on another “test” instead—using the college search process as a way of encouraging my daughter’s evolving independence.

We’ve been fortunate this summer. Our daughter Lily has been out of town on an internship for several weeks so she’s naturally taken on more responsibility for beginning her college applications. Besides, I can’t nag very effectively over Skype. Still, I do anticipate some tension in the fall as Lily’s timetable for completing the application process may be different from what I expect.

Having observed family members and my own advisees navigate the path toward young adult autonomy, I decided to put together some tips for families who want to encourage their teen’s independence without sacrificing a successful college search:

1) Set up a family meeting to discuss what parts of the application process are your son/daughter’s responsibility and which aspects you will help with. Included in this discussion might be dates or deadlines, how and when to talk about the college search and completing applications and even how to talk to “nosey” adults, who ask intrusive questions about college lists and test scores.

2) Let your teen manage the responsibility of making counselor appointments, submitting scores,asking for recommendations, and communicating with colleges. You may be crossing your fingers that he/she actually follows through on these tasks, but don’t do the task for him/her.  Ask questions instead of giving directives.

3) Consider “outsourcing” some of the process to other adults in areas where there might be considerable tension (like the college list or essay content) or in areas where others might have more expertise (financial aid and scholarships, for instance).

We hired an independent advisor for Lily who is helping her make decisions about which colleges to apply to, which tests to take and when, and the content of her essays. It has been difficult for me to give up the role of college advisor, especially with essays, but I finally realized that a good relationship with my daughter is more valuable than having my “say” about the topics she chooses to write about.

Other family members have “outsourced” college tours; my sister and brother each took their nieces and nephews to see different campuses, and Lily’s grandparents took her to see schools in southern California.

4) Set time and place boundaries around college discussions so that they don’t take up all the family time and energy these next few months. Different family members have other priorities and interests so be sure not to neglect these. Family meal times in particular might be healthier as college-free zones.

5) Be sure to plan occasions and outings just for fun this fall. Savor this last year you have with your teen living at home. The time is already zipping by too quickly. . .

I look forward to learning your ideas for encouraging a better relationship with your high school senior.

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