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Speaking of families, for those families who have seniors in high school, “letting go” is a difficult experience. As the school year begins, thousands of high school families begin the college exploration process full of excitement about all of the opportunities this time offers. After years of hard work and academic preparations, the time for realizing dreams and goals has finally arrived. If conflict and stress exist between members of the family, the college process can be a horrid experience.  Parents must understand their role if everyone is to get through this time with a minimum of family tension.

Sometime during the winter of their junior year, as PSAT scores reach college admissions offices, students find themselves “swamped” with literature from colleges all over the country.  This can be encouraging or terrifying.  Students realize they must make decisions that can have a tremendous impact on their lives. Parents really panic. Emotional swings of both parents and students are varied and wide.

At this point, it is natural for a concerned parent to want to take over … to be sure that applications are done; essays are written; deadlines aren’t missed.  Conversations can turn into interrogations or nagging sessions – unpleasant to everyone involved.

Please, parents, try to demonstrate an understanding of what your child is going through. Be a sympathetic and trusted source of support.  Be a wise, systematic aid in the information-gathering and decision-making process. Be open-minded and nonjudgmental. Overcome your urge to take charge. Encourage your child to pursue his or her dreams.  This will help your child develop self-reliance.

Parents can be and need to be a great source of support and advice.  Help students find someone who has proper information to guide everyone through the process. The student, ultimately, must be the one who takes charge of this process: filling out applications, writing essays, acquiring recommendations, and deciding which college to attend.

Parents, be a sounding board. Be realistic. Continue to encourage your student to appraise objectively his or her abilities and limitations. This is a perfect time to explore lots of available options.

Parents sometimes are tempted to try to live their own lives through their children. Many parents want their children to have the “same experience” they did. Remember it is not really fair to impose your dreams and goals on your son or daughter. Be very careful. Avoid saying, “When we go to college….”  Please do not use the plural pronoun 'we.'

Remember your child wants your respect more than anything.  They do not want to let you down.

For most 17 and 18 year old students, choosing a college is the biggest decision and risk ever undertaken. This is probably the last time parents feel in full control of their children — a scary feeling. As a parent, you may have some unresolved issues about separating — about your child’s future independence. Understanding that these feelings are normal and part of the college process, and honoring them but not letting them dominate will enhance your relationship with your child.  Lots of time for mutual respect and appreciation exist.

College is a wonderful opportunity — a time to explore, to change, to experience, to become. It’s a great adventure. The greatest satisfaction and joy parents can have is watching their children become responsible, caring adults with a sense of purpose in life. And remember this college process will pass. Many of us have survived this experience and do have children who are responsible, caring adults.   This is not a time for parents to panic, but an opportunity to establish trusting relationships with their children.

Letting Go by Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence is a perfect gift for children to give to their parents. Actually, a number of books give parents excellent guidance in moving children from home to college. A few good ones include the following: When Kids Go to College – Barbara M. Newman and Philip Newman; Empty Nest…Full Heart – Andrea Van Steenhouse; The Launching Years – Jennifer Wyatt and Laura Kastner;  You’re On Your Own (But I’m Here If You Need Me) – Marjorie Savage.

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