It’s hard not to let peer pressure and your own feelings get in the way as your child makes a decision that seems so public and important to their future, said Kymberly Spector, a parent of a Southern California high schooler.
“It feels like, when you’re in it, it’s the biggest decision and the biggest determining factor in their future,” she said, adding that she’s striving to make her daughter’s individual experience a priority over competing with other parents.
Getting into a top school has become harder and more important to the metaphorical family report card, seemingly symbolizing how well we’ve raised our children, said John Duffy, a Chicago-based psychologist.
“For some (young) people, it’s going to shrink their self-image, and for some people, it’s going to make life feel like some sort of hit question, as opposed to an ongoing essay you’re still writing” , she said. .
This perfectionism can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression, said study author Thomas Curran, assistant professor in the department of psychological and behavioral sciences at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
The pressure to give your child the best education is real, but the best education doesn’t always come from a popular institution, Heitner said. To help your family make college decisions in a way that minimizes stress and maximizes students’ ability to make good decisions for themselves, experts recommend that adults give their children these gifts.
A return to your values
“Inevitably parents will say, I want them to be happy, I want them to be well-rounded, I want them to be good citizens,” Duffy said. Once they get past their initial impulse to follow their neighbors, “I hardly ever hear them say I want them to go to the best college possible, and I want them to make as much money as possible” .
How to transmit this state of mind to children? Heitner said it’s important to focus the conversation not just on how to get into an elite college, but more on the life they want to have and the many ways they could get there.
A break from social media
Social media has expanded the scope of who gets updates on our kids, and there’s a lot of flexibility that can take place there, Heitner said.
Online one-upmanship can increase the pressure, “sometimes even reducing the ability for children to share their own news on their own timeline”, she added.
Heitner said children should never be posted without their permission, and that during the college admissions process, “people should consider taking a break from social media — and their kids might want it too — because all these messages stress them out.”
The assurance of unconditional love
The sad truth is that much of the pressure around college gets away with families, and parents can be anxious for their kids to do their best academically as the opportunities seem to get more competitive, Curran said. .
But communicating those expectations with unconditional love and support is crucial, he added.
What kids need to hear is “no matter the outcome…no matter what happens, you’re loved,” Curran said.
The joy of learning
We can also help our children rekindle the joy of learning that can often be lost by focusing on test scores, rankings and admission rates before moving on to their next phase of life, Curran said.
Instead of focusing on school rankings, Duffy suggested taking study breaks with your kids to do something you enjoy together, like watching a show that makes you all laugh. You can also teach joyful learning by example by involving your kids in the fun things you’re working on, like cooking, music or language, Curran added.
It’s a gift that can make your college life both more enjoyable and more successful.
“If you throw yourself behind your education, you will appreciate it, but you will also reap the benefits,” Curran added.
Trust your child’s choices
Rather than being a marker of their success, it can be helpful to think of higher education as the first decision your child makes as an adult, and “the more you show that you have confidence in their ability to do so and doing it well, the more successful they will be,” Duffy said.
They’re going to have a lot of choices to make, and allowing them to feel their own identity and show that you trust their intuition will give them more power in the future, he said.
“As long as kids are allowed to go their own way, I never see those kids coming back with a failed first grade,” Duffy said.
Be aware that the best fit may not be the top rated
What the research has shown — but our egos and anxieties can obscure — is that the prestige of the college a student attends isn’t necessarily a direct indicator of their success in life, Heitner said. Some people go to a top university without achieving their goals, just as people who attended community college can go on to have the life they dreamed of, she added.
Duffy suggests removing the ranking and instead focusing on what works best. Sometimes the location of the school makes a big difference, or its size, or the academic programs it offers – more often than not it comes down to whether the people around you inspire you and connect with you, said Duffy.
No matter what college your child attends, they “cannot have failed in life at 17,” Heitner said.
And whatever they choose, families and students should remember that it’s always possible to change plans or try something new, she said.