Bonding with Your High School Senior Over College Applications

Yes, there is an upside to stressing and arguing over applying to college.

By Anne Vaccaro Brady 

Before my kids were old enough to apply to college, I listened to parents of high school seniors lament about how exhausted they were because they stayed up late with their son or daughter who was filling out college apps. They talked about how many times they reread essays, made coffee for their teen (and themselves) and why they felt they had to stay up.

laptop-coffeThey taught me that being there to support your tired, cranky and stressed out senior elevates your parent-child relationship to another level. When my time came, I experienced this bonding phenomenon, too. Here’s what else I discovered.

You learn new things about each other Filling in their list of activities on application after application, your senior might reveal that he only liked two of the three sports he played, or that the diversity group you forced him to join turned out to be his favorite extra-curricular. Now is the time you can admit that, like your student, you never cared for his band director or the wrestling coach.

Your teen appreciates your commitment If you’re staying up to keep your student from falling asleep during app season, or making yourself available to review her application after work, she appreciates what you’re doing, even if she doesn’t say so. She likes knowing you’re nearby to answer the confusing question that comes up at least once on every application. When a deadline is looming, it helps to have Mom or Dad nearby to remind you that you’re almost done.

Spontaneous laughter releases a lot of tension This outburst usually occurs when you’re both ready to scream and give up. Maybe it’s catching the big typo that mistakenly lists a rival college in a short answer, or the sixth time your teen has to list his senior year classes, or the moment you repeat your story about filling out your college applications by hand, at the dining room table, all alone, and your kid rolls his eyes.

DSC05427Bonding over Mallomars Food is fuel and after you’ve fed your son or daughter the fruit, the nuts and the yogurt smoothie, there are the Mallomars, or whatever the favorite, totally-not-healthy snack is in your house. A well-stocked pantry helps minimize the crankiness on everyone’s part.

Now is a good time to spread some praise Your senior might be a few weeks behind on the whole college application process, but if she’s made the commitment now and is plowing through, give her credit. I lectured my son when he was dragging his feet on his apps, but when he finished the last one a couple of weeks earlier than planned, I made sure to tell him I was impressed.

Filling out applications makes the idea of college instantly real for a senior As my kids moved through the application process, we inevitably found a college or two they decided to cut from their list at the last minute. Maybe your kid doesn’t want to go to a college that’s beyond driving distance after all, or he doesn’t want the option of commuting, or he does want to apply to a school where he knows someone.

Don’t be surprised if your teen turns to you and says he’s scared—to graduate, to be without his best friends, to have to think about a career or just to go to college. Your job is to be reassuring, not to dismiss his very real and very normal fears.

There will be stories to tell—when it’s all over Your senior will boast about how Mom was literally pulling her hair out or Dad picked up a big batch of Buffalo wings to celebrate when the last application was sent. You’ll remind your teen how hard she cried when that one application didn’t save and she had to start it all over again. You can mention the strength it took for you not to cry, too.

College application season brings a large share of stress, but remember to take a step back and see how the experience has benefited your parent-child relationship.

Share your story of how the college application process affected your family in the comments section below.  

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2 Responses to Bonding with Your High School Senior Over College Applications

  1. This is certainly finding the silver lining and in retrospect I can see that you are right, but at the time it did not feel this way. Incredibly stressful, over tired teen, over tired mom it is a blur as my kids did this two years in a row. I am going to try to remember your wise words the third time around!

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