Preparing Our Kids for College



College preparation, for most parents and students, calls to mind the academic preparation that takes place when a student is in high school, and preparing to apply for college. This includes studying for important college entrance exams such as the SAT and ACT, many meetings with guidance counselors to line up the classes that will best fit your college plans, taking on challenging Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes to improve your application profile, and just generally working hard to maximize your classroom grades. But for parents, preparing our kids for college involves more than just the academic aspect of preparation; we have to ensure that our kids are also prepared for the emotional and mental impact of this transition.

Helicopter Parenting – Good or Bad?

Helicopter parenting is a term that generally refers to a style of parenting where parents are overly focused on their children. The term “helicopter parent” was first coined in the book, Parents & Teenagers (1969) by Dr. Haim Ginott. Children used it to refer to a feeling that their parents were hovering over them constantly, like a helicopter. While many educators and mental health professionals may argue that helicopter parenting does not help a student transition well from high school to college, new research suggests that a healthy level of parental involvement has a more positive impact than an entirely hands-off approach when it comes to college freshmen.

How Can Parents Find the Right Balance?

It can be overwhelming for parents of college freshmen to strike a healthy balance between adequately preparing our children for college, and helicopter parenting. In this September 12, 2017 article published on titled, Helicopter parenting is bad for college kids – but a little hovering is just right, author and Licensed Clinical Social Worker F. Diane Barth offers these suggestions for healthy, positive parental involvement that doesn’t overstep into helicopter territory:

  • Guide your student, but don’t pressure them. Respect their point of view and their need to exercise their newfound independence. Listen more than you talk.

  • Ask open-ended questions, such as “What are you learning?” rather than closed ones about test scores or grades.

  • Actively express your interest in what they tell you by asking follow-up questions.

  • Share some of what is happening in your own life. Shifting to a more balanced, egalitarian model of conversation sharing is part of the transition to a more adult, mutual relationship.

  • Initiate conversation about your expectations for this new relationship. Be direct about your own thoughts about finances, contact, roommate arrangements, and drug and alcohol use. But listen to your child’s point of view on this matter, too. If you’re going to be honest, you have to expect them to be, too.

  • Allow for mistakes while encouraging them to recognize and respond appropriately to dangerous situations. Be available (and make it clear that you are available) when they need help rectifying a slip-up. You and they will both learn from these experiences.

  • Remind them that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. And if they need more than you have to offer, help them find and make use of mental-health services on or off campus.

  • Use college resources for yourself. Go to parents’ orientation sessions when you bring your student to college and attend some of the workshops specifically prepared for you on parents’ weekend.

How Can We Start Preparing Our Kids for College Now?

It’s never too early to start preparing our kids for college. Trust your instincts about when your children are mature enough to handle increasing levels of responsibility, and give them opportunities to exercise some independence, all the while knowing that you are there to help if and when they need it. If your children need help with the college planning and application process, consider enlisting the help of a professional college admissions consultant. The more time a student has to begin mentally and emotionally preparing for the transition to college, the better!