Asking, hinting, nagging, miming, none it’s working to get your teen to fill out their college applications.
You’ve offered to help, you’ve left the applications with your fav pen on the table and lectured your teen about the importance of meeting these deadlines but nothing is working to motivate them to complete this critical step.
This is one of the most frequent messages that I get at this time of year, every year. Frustrated parents with rising anxiety about their teen’s apparent refusal to fill out college application forms and the impending doom that might follow.
You: “but these deadlines aren’t up to me and if they’re missed…..”
Yes, those deadlines are out of your control and you’re trying to get your teen to understand that.
What is your fear story?
Why does your teen need to go to college right out of high school? What were you told about taking a gap year or teens that don’t go to college never go back? Is this really the beginning of the end to your teen being unemployable, homeless, and living under a bridge?
I’m willing to be that fear story came from someone in your childhood and is playing out now with your teen without checking whether it’s even true or has merit now.
Avoidance is based in anxiety.
If your teen is already stressed out, overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, emotionally burnout and still recovering from a pandemic, whatever it is, then I assure you a college application is just enough to put their lips right underwater. when managing their day to day is already maxing out their capacity then a load of forms that deal with ANOTHER performance-based situation in the future is the last straw.
Your teen might be ‘managing’ on the outside, yet barely coping on the inside. Just the thought of even higher standards in post-secondary education and continuing to please and feel loved by you (that’s psychologically normal) for another 4years sends them further into a stress response of flight or freeze.
Here’s what one teen wrote me a few days ago
“I’m in this exact boat right now! It’s not about NOT wanting to go to college (a gap year sounds like heaven of course) but my mom just isn’t understanding that I’m taking 4 APs and 2 Honors classes and it’s a lot of work. Bringing (college applications) up every night at dinner is increasing my stress and doesn’t help my situation at all. Today is the infamous ED/EA deadline, and I did manage to submit 3 applications.” A.G.
Stop the ride, I want to get off!
Teenagers often feel like life is happening TO them. They’re on a ride they didn’t choose, and they can’t get off long enough to figure what they want so they drown trying parent please and keep up with a norm that isn’t working for them. Did you see the comment from that teen above?
“… a gap year sounds like heaven of course.”
Even high achieving teens like her, taking advanced placement and honors courses are mentally exhausted yet are more likely do what their parents want than what’s right for them to maintain the status quo and avoid disappointing you.
What are you pretending not to know?
Throwing your hard-earned money toward tuition that’s not going to be appreciated or well invested, and then ending up resenting your teen because they failed out in their first semester isn’t fair to anyone.
And that’s the second most common message I get from parents at this time of year – parents have sent their senior off to college and now they’re failing out! You’re desperate for help to motivate them or set consequences to turn this expensive experiment around.
There were signs you chose to see as defiance rather than desperation. Your teen was too afraid to voice their fears and needs to you, so they avoided you instead. You pushed forward because ‘that’s how it works in our family’ and going to the best colleges to get the best jobs and blah, blah, blah.
This isn’t the end as you know it.
The graduates I know didn’t burst into flames and become complete failures in their life from taking a gap year. For many teenagers right now, a gap year might be the very best thing to lower stress, figure out what they like and they don’t like through volunteering, part-time or full-time jobs.
Let’s be honest, high school is a garden hose and university fire hose. Supporting your teen to gather themselves and build the emotional and mental capacity for higher education, whether that’s a gap year or a summer off, is the only path through.
Here’s the next step.
Bring out the college applications and let your teen know you’ll make yourself available whenever possible to help fill them out IF it feels right for them. If they choose to attend college next year, there are non-negotiable external timelines to meet.
And if they don’t feel ready, it all feels like too much and they’re considering a gap here, you’ll support them in that as well, so they’re empowered to move forward with the confidence and capacity to find success on their terms.
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