When a student begins to consider making application to an independent school, college, or university, there are usually several adults available to assist with the process. Often, a guidance counselor assumes the primary role of school or college counselor for a certain number of students in the class. A coach or teacher might become involved, as well, for specific students with special aptitudes. The school principal might choose to weigh in, too, with a recommendation letter or suggestions of appropriate places to consider. For some families who can afford the option, an independent educational consultant can serve as a facilitator – a trained listener who can guide and support, without all of the emotional baggage.
The already complicated process of school selection – the catalogues, the visits, interviews, application forms, rec letters – is made even more difficult by the presence of Mom and Dad, those highly partisan advocates with lots of vested interest in the outcome and the power associated with paying the bills. Parents want the very best for their children, of course, particularly when facing very important decisions that may irrevocably alter the course of their children’s lives. Yet the complex set of emotional, social, and psychological issues that define parent/child relationships normally make parents among the least qualified to serve as school counselors for their own children. Yet these same parents can be effective counselors for the sons and daughters of others – thoughtful adult participants in the process, without the certainty of their ideas being rejected out of hand by their own kids.
Some parents want their children to pursue goals that might be parental priorities, but not the priorities of the son or daughter. Some insist upon “high value” decisions: “I’ll pay your tuition, but only if you study something practical, something that will get you a good job.” Often, parents will want to fulfill lifetime disappointments by urging their children “to become the doctor that I wasn’t able to become.” None of these motivations is especially helpful, and some may actually be counterproductive. Here are some thoughts to consider:
* During adolescence, young adults often need to reject the values, suggestions, and demands of their parents. It is all part of testing their own wings, preparing to fly out of the nest for the first time, trusting their own judgments. Hence, parents are not likely to be heard when they choose to counsel their own daughters and sons.
* The complexities of competitive admission require that every student be accompanied on the journey by a qualified adult mentor – an education professional, if possible; otherwise, by a trusted advocate with similar values to those of the student’s own family.
* There are multiple right answers to most of life’s questions, including, “Where should I go to college?” The world will not end if Junior doesn’t choose Dad’s school. (It might even be better for Junior to have his own school!)
* In the experience of this writer – including twenty years and ten thousand interviews – it has often been demonstrated that parents and their adolescent sons and daughters don’t generally communicate very well. Some choose to avoid sensitive subjects; some make too many assumptions; some attach strings to every question, which, of course, tends not to elicit reliable answers. In such an environment, the parent can’t provide the quality of advice to her daughter that can be made available by an informed outsider.
* Nearly every parent does have valuable advice to share with a young adult needing educational guidance, however. That advice should be reserved for the son or daughter of a friend or colleague, though – someone who will be likely to listen, to discuss the topic dispassionately, without all of the parent/child baggage piled up at home.