My Top Six Tips for Keeping Sane When Your Parents Freak Out About College
One of my goals as an independent college counselor and moderator on r/ApplyingtoCollege is to emulate a warm and affirming yet honest and straightforward presence for kids looking to attend college. I want them to feel like they can trust me even when we disagree because I have their best interests at heart. I want to create the best kind of “parental” vibe possible. I recognize that many kids don’t have that kind of dynamic with their parents, especially when it comes to college admissions.
Unfortunately, many parents feel immense amounts of pressure about your college decision (even though they’re not the ones going to college). They might feel pressure about the financial burden of college, the perception of prestige, or your chances of being able to lead fulfilling, independent lives because they feel like that’s determined by your college. More times than not, parents might turn that pressure on you (as if you don’t have enough to deal with).
They shouldn’t do that, but sometimes they do.
If your parents are putting added stress on you, I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I’m sure you’re feeling super frustrated. It’s hard to understand this, but most of the time your parents are coming from a position of love. And fear. Most parents want what they think is best for their kids. But sometimes they don’t know enough about the process to be helpful, and because they probably know this on some level, they feel more scared and helpless and less capable of protecting you. Which can lead to more parent freak-outs. Which can add to your stress.
Now, understanding that fear does not mean giving in to it. It’s more about internalizing and accepting who you are and who they are instead of resisting.
If you have the inner strength to understand yourself (and that takes time and is a struggle for anyone), you can hold onto yourself a little tighter when the battles come up. That doesn’t mean you fight more or even disobey them. That means you live your life in a way that is respectful to both your parents and yourself. Don’t lose sight of who you are. In the end, all you can do is control your own behavior.
Consequently, that means you have the opportunity to grow and help them turn it around by understanding that their nagging and prodding and hurtful words are fear-driven. Whether you like it or not, you are going to be the one who has to open your parents’ minds to the realities of modern college admissions (in the United States, at least). It is truly a different world than the one they went through back in their day, assuming they experienced American college.
When your parents are starting to really work on your nerves and you feel like things are starting to go south, take these steps:
1. Get outside and go for a walk. Or just make some space for yourself.
Clear your head. But don’t hide from the issues. They won’t get better unless you address them.
2. Try talking to your parents.
Explain the impact their words have on you. Try writing out what you want them to hear from you. If you’re feeling really down, tell your parents you need a counselor or therapist. Or if things are very bad, find a trusted adult to talk to immediately.
3. Make a PowerPoint of some other visual presentation to explain your decisions.
Present your arguments about your chosen schools. Show them that you are serious about your choices and you have made a serious effort to ease their apprehensions. Cover all their arguments and let them know that you have listened to and understand their point of view. Show them how your college choices fit you and why other schools don’t fit you. Show them what you love about the school, professors, classes, and potential activities, and be sure to include stats about graduation rates, research, job placement, opportunities, and the career center. I’ve had other kids do this, and often it makes a huge difference.
4. Educate them. Show them the math.
Many parents have an unrealistic view of what it takes for college admissions now, and often they don’t understand the idea of holistic admissions and the realities of the number of high stats students applying today. So, let’s give them perspective. Do a little research. How many high schools are in the US? How many 33 and above ACT takers and above 1500 SAT takers are there. There will be some overlap there, sure. So add about 1/3 of that number. Then we have computer geniuses, school newspaper editors, sports captains, and class presidents. Add a bunch of those. Now consider how many acceptances to the highly selective colleges are there?
5. Make sure your parents know and understand that their point of view is being heard and considered.
Let them know you’re listening. When they’re talking, repeat their words back to them—this is a technique called Active Listening. Be patient with them. Your burgeoning independence is scary for us parents. Make sure they know that you are still going to be their child but that you are coming into your own.
6. Compliment their parenting.
Let them know that they’ve done such a fantastic job of parenting you and teaching you that you are ready for the next step and you’re so grateful that they’ve provided such a fantastic foundation for you. Tell them that all their hard work over your life has made you a capable and confident person who is ready to make decisions. Don’t force yourself to lie – I know some parents are…well…the worst. But most parents at least did something good for you, and many did lots of good things. Remind them that you appreciate what they’ve done for you.
I know it’s intimidating to sit your parents down like this, but it’s worth a shot. You may be surprised at how much you can assuage their fears and anxieties by showing them the smart and competent person you are. After all, I speak from personal experience. If my kids had wanted to go to some college I was not excited about, then I would have been worried and anxious. However, I would have much, much, much preferred that they explain their plan and be honest with me about how they planned to approach the college process. If my kids had had a great plan they believed in, I would have tried my damnedest to respect, understand, and appreciate their reasons.
If you want to learn more about dealing with your parents during this stressful time, or if you need more general college admissions advice, head over to Amazon and pick up a copy of my book, Hey AdmissionsMom: Real Talk from Reddit.
You can also find me on r/ApplyingToCollege, drop into the comments, or reach out to me on Twitter or Instagram.
Good luck and stay awesome!