General Question

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Can some jellies help me unravel this parenting puzzle?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (25799 points ) December 30th, 2012

One of my daughters is a high school junior. For those jellies unfamiliar with the US school system, that means she’ll graduate in June, 2014, when the school-year ends here in Hawai`i.

This coming March, 2013, she will take an important standardized college entrance exam called the SAT. She’s nervous about that.

She’s beginning to search for colleges in her field of interest(theater design and technology), and she is also planning a trip with her mother for this coming summer to visit some of those schools. She’s always talked about going to school back East. That includes the mid-Atlantic states and New England.

My dilemma is that whenever I try to mention the subject, she squeals and finds ways to change the subject. I’m truly not trying to add to her stress. I understand that choosing a university or college is a big decision.

I have spent some time online researching schools, and I believe I have some good suggestions.

How do I approach her so that I’m helpful without pressuring her?

Please, note this is a General Section question.

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41 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

Ask her leading questions and comply with her answers.

Find her a surrogate parent with whom she can talk (and listen).

Go to Lourdes.

bookish1's avatar

Maybe the topic feels too big and overwhelming for her to approach all at once. It might be easier to bring up the subject if you just begin with a little piece of it. For instance, the school environment: small liberal arts school or big state university? Do you know how much thinking on these matters she has done on her own?

glacial's avatar

I’m not sure what she’s communicating by the “squeal”. Do you know? Is she annoyed because she feels that she has the search under control, or is she afraid to think about it? Or do you think it might be something else?

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@gailcalled We’re Episcopalians. I don’t think Lourdes works for heathen liberals. ;-) But otherwise, yes, complying with her answers is something to learn.

@bookish1 She is overwhelmed. She has done a great deal of research on her own. She’s been online, randomly ordered some college catalogues, taken some fun what-college-is-right-for-you quizes, and been scared of the size of the search since there are so many places to choose from.

@glacial The squeal seems to be from fear of the size of the task.

hearkat's avatar

I am thinking there is some prior history in her communication with you that causes her to feel pressured even when you aren’t being hard on her at all… I have that with my son. Does she discuss these things with her mother more easily?

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@hearkat I’m not sure how she discusses things with her mother. We’re divorced and seldom all in the room at the same time. We all get along very well actually. My ex spends time at my house, and I do the same at hers. We spent Christmas all together here at my house, and it was really joyous.

I think it’s the pressure of choosing that she’s fearful of. Perhaps I should have asked how to assuage that fear.

I could always be wrong, but I don’t think she’s afraid to talk to me. We talk about her trouble with her boyfriend all the time, and there’s not that much trouble. He’s a good kid, and she beats him at card games, which frustrates him. But then, she beats me, too, which I adore.

glacial's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake I guess in your position I would be most concerned that she make an informed decision, based on her own criteria, and that she make that decision in plenty of time to apply for admission and scholarships – that means in plenty of time to request and receive reference letters. Probably the most important thing that you can do is make sure that she understands that those deadlines are coming up fast (I remember being surprised at how far in advance some of these applications had to be in). If she does, then let her meet them. And also she must understand that she needs to plan something within your budget, presumably.

If she really has done “a great deal of research on her own”, I’m willing to bet that she will be just fine. Like your daughter, I had a lot of choices to make at that time, and (not necessarily like her) I wanted my parents nowhere near it, since they understood nothing (hah). It’s quite normal for her to be stressed out about the process; choosing a school is a life-altering decision.

bookish1's avatar

Are there really that many schools to choose from? Sounds like she has a very specific major planned. I didn’t know that they offered it at that many places. Moreover, can she realistically expect to be accepted at many schools, or will that help narrow down the choices? Is she able to get it down to a list of 10 (maybe 3 reaches, 4 almost-sure-bets and 3 safety schools)?

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@glacial Thank you. That gives me some good perspective. I know she’s diligent.

@bookish1 The pressuring factor at present is that she wants to narrow the list to about 4 or 5 for the upcoming trip to the mainland this summer. And yes, in my research I initially found 1500 schools offering that major and narrowed it down to 90 and then down to 30. Your idea does sound doable, but our difficulty is isolation here on an island far from where she wants to be. We can’t hop in the car and take a look at prospective schools easily.

bookish1's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake : Gotcha, knowing what the immediate pressure is helps. Is she able to list what the most important factors are in a school for her? Maybe she could select schools to visit that are representative of these particular factors, even though there is no way to visit all of the ones that are a potentially good fit for her.

glacial's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake Try not to be hurt if she doesn’t seek your advice about this; it’s probably the biggest, most influential decision she’s ever had to make on her own. And it is a decision about a future that she wants for herself, based on her own academic experiences and abilities. In a way, it’s probably hard for her to understand why you think you can help her with it. Just let her know you’re there if she wants to have a discussion about the relative merits of the schools.

janbb's avatar

I remember from my own kids that when they are not ready to talk and think about it, they are not ready. And it feels to them like everyone is asking them about it all the time at that age! I found that with my first one, he didn’t get excited about it until we saw a few colleges he liked Senior year. We dragged him grouchily around some during the summer before. He ended up doing killer apps and getting into great schools – including his first choice. The second was a little more biddable but similar.

If you can, I suggest you be the non-college pressuring parent and not mention it. You could tell her you’ve looked into a few schools (and I’m sure you love it that she wants theatre design) and if she wants to talk to you about it, you’d be receptive. Otherwise, I wiould lay off. Hard advice to follow, I well know. Good luck!

PS NYU and Yale if she’s up for it. (Just send her to me for advice! :-))

YARNLADY's avatar

Ask if the two of you could set aside a good time to discuss her plans for college.

Ask her mother if sending an e-mail to her would be appropriate. If not, then what?

Jeruba's avatar

I think the initiative should come from her, both in the researching of schools and in discussing them.

It doesn’t matter if she overlooks a few. She doesn’t need to be compulsive about checking every possible one. She really just needs one that works out, and it might not be the Ivy League school or the school in the coolest location. It might not even be the one that dad and mom like the best.

I am utterly certain you mean well, Jake, but nothing would have turned me off a school faster than the notion that my parents had researched it ahead of me and recommended it. I might as well have let my parents choose my husband.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

She is probably internally pressuring herself to get it “right”! and is obsessing about the magnitude and importance. The surrogate suggestion is good one and the best person would be her guidance counselor at school.
Ask the school to make some time for you and then the two of you for review and input to the choices, and compatibly is important (school lifestyle

wildpotato's avatar

If the range of possible choices is making her feel overwhelmed, there are a few things that could help. Visiting the schools and spending time in the towns was what got me really interested in a few specific places, but since the problem is how to figure out which ones to visit…hm. I guess I have a few bits of advice: she shouldn’t feel like she has to know everything there is to know about all these places to make a decision – this is impossible, and there are always many “wild” factors that can’t be researched ahead of time. Telling her that it’s ok if it comes down to stabbing a pencil at a narrowed-down list could be a de-pressurizing thing to hear. Or using some other sort of arbitrary decider – what I’m remembering as I type this is that some relative of mine told me a story when I was stressing about colleges, that he chose between two schools he felt equally positive about by comparing their library size. In the end it’s often a matter of luck whether someone is happy at a place in any event. Another thing that’s good to hear is that if you end up not being happy at a school, it is absolutely possible to transfer. We think of it as the Big Goal of high school for so long it’s easy to forget that choosing a college or uni isn’t the end of a journey, it’s only the beginning of one.

burntbonez's avatar

Let her do the research, and trust her. She’s motivated.

Vassar, Meryl Streep’s alma mater.

poisonedantidote's avatar

Send her an anonymous email with the info contained withing, subject: Top Universities.

wundayatta's avatar

My daughter is also a junior, and we’ve been doing the East Coast college tour this year, too. Middlebury, Vassar, Hampshire, might be interesting.

My daughter has done a lot of the research herself, and of course, so has her mother. Even I did a little investigating, but I do trust my daughter to figure out what she is interested in. She is into dance and does music theater as well, so there may be some overlap in our daughters’ interests. My daughter wants to go to a rural New England school. She is tired of living in the big city.

Although, she did look at Vassar, which is in Poughkeepsie, a somewhat miserable small city. The campus is big enough that it is separate from the city and seems kind of ivory tower enough, I guess. But they are very smug there, being one of the top ten colleges in the nation according to various lists, and are overly proud of having Meryl Streep, as @burntbonez points out.

Still, it must be kind of nice to have her be interested in one of your favorite fields of work. Feel like she’s following in the footsteps a bit. That, of course, could well change in college.

But I would not obsess about it. Of course, how can you not? I tell myself that there are many paths through life, and you don’t have to get into an Ivy League college to guarantee success. This is a good thing, since my daughter is most definitely not interested in an Ivy. Our children will figure their own way through life, and college is the first major decision where some of us will give them the chance to take responsibility for a major decision.

This is not a make or break decision. It is not irreversible. Trust your daughter. It will work out.

bkcunningham's avatar

Jake,
I want to understand a couple of things you said. Earlier you said you, your daughter and her mother did not spend time together and then you said you get along well, spend time at each other’s houses and spent Christmas together. That is very confusing. Would you please clarify your relationship with her mom? Also, I am curious how much time you spendwith your daughter’s boyfriend.

Bellatrix's avatar

All you can do is acknowledge the size of the task in front of her, that you respect her wanting to sort through it herself but that you are there for her if she wants to brainstorm some ideas or needs any help making a final decision.

If you push, she is likely to go the other way. Backing off and letting her come to you is probably all you can do.

bossob's avatar

Your daughter is probably thinking that she is trying to make the most consequential decision she has ever made. But she is too young to have the experience to know that we make very few decisions that we can’t recover from should we happen to make the wrong choice. Can you tell her that much, and that you’ll love her no matter how her life turns out?

Since she and her mother are visiting schools together, I’m assuming their communication about this subject is more constructive. Can you keep abreast of the on-going process through your ex? Can your ex pass along some of your ideas, without attributing them to you?

As a stubborn teenage boy, I just hated it when my dad wanted to discuss my future. It felt to me like he was trying to cleverly persuade me to do what he thought was best, and I resented it. I ended up making my ‘post-high school future’ decision behind his back. He was hurt, but to this day, I know I made the right decision.

When he reached a certain age, my teenage son decided he would rather talk to his mother (my ex) instead of me, about managing money. He knew he would like what she had to say more than what I had to say. I didn’t like it, but I accepted it because part of growing up is learning to make our own decisions and that we have to live with the consequences.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@bkcunningham I’m sorry if what I wrote was confusing. What I meant to say was that my daughter, her mother, and I do not spend a lot of time together as a unit talking about things. I spend weekends with my daughters, and they spend the weekdays with their mother. That’s the way we have it divided. Although now that the older one drives, she’s rarely at my house on the weekends.

As for the boyfriend, why is the amount of time I spend with him important? He comes over with her. We all play games together like families and friends do, and they leave. Sometimes we watch movies together.

augustlan's avatar

I can only sympathize, @Hawaii_Jake. We went through this last year with our oldest, and will again this year with our middle daughter. It’s a crazy-making time, for sure! It’s so hard to bite your tongue, but do it if you can. Tell her you’re there if and when she’s ready to talk about it, and try to let her navigate the system on her own as much as possible. Best of luck!

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Thank you, all. This has been very helpful.

@janbb I’ll send her straight to you.
@YARNLADY I asked her just now about setting aside time, and she agreed. Thank you.
@Jeruba You have sound advice, and were the communication between my children and I strained in any way, I would follow it. We happen to talk about almost everything and in very lighthearted tones for the most part.
@Tropical_Willie I asked her today about her high school guidance counselor, and she rolled her eyes and said the counselor looks up everything on the internet. She added I, her father, have found more valuable information in the 2 or 3 days of looking than the counselor has found at all. I explained that the counselor has lots of other duties than sitting and finding a perfect match for my daughter’s college future. She agreed.
@wildpotato We live in Hawai`i. A lot of college visits is out of the question. What my daughter wants is to narrow the field to 4 or 5, and we’re getting there. Slowly but surely, she’s picking the ones she’s finding suit her best.
@burntbonez Vassar? Someone else mentioned that school, too, and I don’t mean @wundayatta. Do you think Meryl might write a letter of recommendation for my daughter?
@poisonedantidote I could never get an anonymous email past my daughter. She’d be on to me in a heartbeat.
@wundayatta Thank you. It’s nice to know that there’s someone else out there going through the same things at the same time.
@Bellatrix I’ve stopped pushing. :-)
@bossob She does believe that this is the most important decision of her whole life. I will tell her that it’s not. Thank you. That’s true.
@augustlan As always, thanks and hugs to you, too.

janbb's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake My oldest looked at Vassar and it is truly lovely and good for theatre and dance. You might also want to llok at Sarah Lawrence College – where I went – very artsy.

I think if your communication with your daughter is lighthearted and open as you say and as ours was, you will find your way and do fine with it.

bkcunningham's avatar

I was thinking perhaps her boyfriend could be the buffer and/or the (what is the word I am looking for) distractor to help lead the conversation into a different direction than it normally takes. I just wanted to make sure he has been around the two of you together enough for everyone to feel comfortable.

These are such precious wonderful years. Regardless, just bask in this time. It passes too swiftly.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@bkcunningham I can feel the years flying by. I truly can. sigh

Jeruba's avatar

I truly don’t mean to be contrary, @Hawaii_Jake, but your remark does sound like there’s a barrier to your communication:

My dilemma is that whenever I try to mention the subject, she squeals and finds ways to change the subject.

If there’s no problem, perhaps I misunderstood the question.

gailcalled's avatar

In some schools, there are very good guidance counsellors who are supposed to be giving accurate and sympathetic advice to students who are planning their life after high school.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@gailcalled See my note to @Tropical_Willie above. I’m very lucky to have found a former school counselor who is giving excellent advice along with my own searches.

@Jeruba Yes, she squeals, but she does it in a cute way. She was changing the subject completely 2 or 3 days ago but was open and receptive to talking about 1 school just an hour ago. She’s a teenager. Go figure.

gailcalled's avatar

@Hawaii Jake: Has she taken the PSAT’s? If so, that should make her less apprehensive about the SATs (which she may take several more times also.)

hearkat's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake – Well, that’s a good sign. Although my son has always been able to talk with me about his relationships, I think it’s talking about school that he hears anything I say as containing pressure.

I haven’t read all the comments, but wonder how it is that you are trying to “bring up the subject”? Are you saying, “When are we going to talk about your college choices?” or “An acquaintance of mine said the theater department at Vassar is good – have you looked at that one yet?”—maybe doing the latter keeps it more like an ongoing open dialog, rather than the ominous “We need to talk” as if you’ll be going through it all in one sitting.

Another thought… Have a list of ‘Must Haves’ and ‘Must Not Haves’ and things she is flexible on to make it a bit more objective when narrowing down the options (similar to when buying a home: Must Have washer/dryer, Must Not Have electric stoves, Garage would be nice but not a dealbreaker).

creative1's avatar

My favorite place to dicuss topic that you know they will try to avoid talking about is bring it up on a car ride. Its a trapped audience and you can have a great talk. When my nieces and nephews became teens it was so hard to talk to them and so whenever I would pick them up this is when I would get everything there was going on with them without a problem and then I would try to put in some input to help them get what they wanted in life. I do the same with my daughter who is only 4 now and we have some of the best conversations on our way to nana’s house which takes close to an hour to get to.

Jeruba's avatar

Ok, good, then. I guess I gave much more weight to “puzzle” and “dilemma” than you intended. That’s probably more of a reflection of some of the parent-child worries I’ve had than I intended.

hearkat's avatar

@creative1 – Yes! The car rides always seemed to allow for deeper conversations. In addition to being captive, I think it helps that we aren’t looking directly at one another. Plus there’s something about gazing at the passing scenery that seems to make us more contemplative.

Jeruba's avatar

…until the youngster realizes that every time he gets in the car with you, he’s going to be trapped in a lecture or a deep and probing discussion, and starts shutting down the moment you turn the ignition key.

janbb's avatar

@Jeruba I never found that. I found that often the car conversations just happened; sometimes there was silence but often not. I am finding the same scenario now with walking the dog in Paris with my oldest son.

Jeruba's avatar

I think if you mean to trap him and take deliberate advantage of his captivity, he’s going to know it, and it will provoke resistance, not revelations. That’s quite different from just letting it happen.

In contrast, I’ve found that working side by side on something is a great opportunity for talking. Just as in other relationships (such as getting acquainted with strangers in a group), a work setting relieves a lot of the social pressure and covers silences without awkwardness. With a youngster, it gives him an escape route so he doesn’t feel trapped, and it fosters a nice sense of collaboration and being on the same side.

A walk is a great opportunity for real conversation. And in Paris…what could be nicer?

janbb's avatar

@Jeruba Of course we’ve all found different ways of connecting with our children. And whatever works for the two of you is a blessing!

(And I agree, walking around Paris or anywhere with an intimate is the best. Even if a 50 pound Brittany Spaniel is peeing and pooping all over Montmartre!

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