Parents Concerned about College

Dec. 3, 2014

Today I want to celebrate one of my own. My middle child, a son, will graduate with a degree in geology in about two weeks. I like to bring him up because he did not take a traditional route through college, but one that led him to successfully complete his college requirements.

I have written about him before, but his story is worth repeating. He is smart and made good grades in high school, but struggled with focus and boredom due to his being attention deficit. Due to the fact that he had taken several IB and AP classes, by the end of his junior year, he had all he needed to graduate except for a one-semester government class. When he showed me his line-up of classes for his senior year, I got a bit worried. I have no problem with interest-specific classes, but when the entire schedule was made up of classes like photography and videography, I got a sinking feeling that he might find himself with too much time for getting into trouble—which he had already proven he was capable of doing.

It was me, not him, that suggested he finish high school early and go do something useful in the world. He was suspicious, but listened as I suggested Americorps or something similar. He countered with the idea of going out of the country to volunteer. We started looking into gap year programs, but ended up constructing one on our own through one of my husband’s work colleagues.

This middle child and his older brother—who took a semester off from college, where he was doing well—took off that January to volunteer with a small NGO in Peru. They both had some Spanish, but took an intensive language course in the country before finding their way to the small community in which they worked. It was a great experience for both of them as they had to figure out transportation and housing, as well as their work project on their own.

After their return, older brother returned to college and the younger sized up his options quickly. He knew the rules: if you are a full-time student, your college fund kicks in; if not, you’re on your own. When he insisted he would attend the local community college, all kinds of alarms went off. I knew it wasn’t what he wanted, but he didn’t want to scrounge for his own rent. His dad and I tried to talk him out of it, telling him if he wasn’t serious, he would be wasting his college fund—so, of course, that is what he did—waste his college fund. He made Cs when he was completely capable of As and took classes that didn’t go toward much when he finally did get serious about college.

Shortly into the second semester of community college, he came to me to proclaim I was right: He wasn’t ready for college. Instead he was heading to New Zealand. He saved a couple of thousand from his part-time job, and his dad and I told him to have a great time. Which he did. He worked when he needed enough money, traveled all over, met lots of people, made all his own decisions, and truly matured.

Ten months or so later, he returned broke, but happy with his adventures. He was forced to live at home for awhile due to lack of funds, and he took the first job he could get: selling high end vacuum cleaner and air filter systems. He actually was a good salesman, but hated the job. About three weeks into it, he came to us and said: “I’m ready for college.” And he was.

He started university the following fall, was a serious student, did well in his classes, loved his major of geology, and is now set to graduate in a couple of weeks—at age 25. I never doubted that he would eventually go to college, but I knew it needed to be on his own terms. That is something that many parents have a difficult time accepting, but accept it they should, as it never does any good to force a young person into college.

Education never has been a one-size fits all, and college is not the right path for every high school graduate, nor is going straight to college after high school. It can be a stop-start, much delayed, or a circular route getting there. But the student shouldn’t start until he or she is ready, willing, and able. That’s what it’s all about.

Congratulation Wes!!

Sept. 4, 2014

There is a website on which reporters post “want ads” for information on subjects they are researching. Today I saw one of those information requests for college preparation advice for high school freshmen. The ad specifically requested “advice on how to build good habits.” I translate that to advice on how to be successful in college and life beyond high school.

How convenient then that the updated, second edition of Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? has recently been released. It is, of course, full of just that kind of information. It is directed toward parents, however, because they are the ones that through guidance and the handing over of responsibilities give their teenagers those skills necessary for a successful college experience.

Although these skills have been discussed often in this forum, it is never too repetitive to make or update a list.

1. Your freshman should keep her own calendar. Include not only academic deadlines and dates, but have her note sport and extracurricular meeting dates, doctor appointments, and anything else she has going. You also should keep track of those dates because in the beginning she probably will miss a few. You can remind her, but eventually let her take over—and let her suffer the consequences of missing a deadline or an appointment.

2. In high school, many teenagers get involved in numerous activities: multiple sports, music, clubs, community service, a job. This is a good time to guide your teenager through priority management. Teenagers can become overwhelmed juggling too many activities on top of school work. Make it clear that academics come first. If school work starts to slide, then your teenager may need guidance in deciding which activities to let go. This can be hard for parents because the teenager may decide to give up something that mom or dad really want him to pursue—such as piano lessons or a particular sport that is near and dear to mom or dad’s heart. Remember that this is the teenager’s life and he needs to make the decisions.

3. If you haven’t already, this is a good time to put your teenager on a budget and teach her financial responsibility. Make a list of the items you will pay for and those for which the teenager is responsible. Do this whether the teenager’s money is an allowance, from work she does for you, or from an outside part-time job—and stick to the plan. This is a good time to show your teenager your household expenses and how you budget.

4. Provide opportunities for your teenager to improve his communication skills. During family gatherings or when friends are around, ask an adult to start conversations with your teen, asking about the teen’s activities, interests, or views. Teens need to learn to communicate face-to-face instead of relying on texting or social media outlets. Also encourage your teen to ask questions as that is a good way to start networking and building contacts.

That’s a good list to start. It will grow as your teenager ages and as you give out graduated responsibility. Keep reminding yourself that the goal is to help your teenager be ready, willing, and able for success in college and life beyond high school.

Aug. 18, 2014

Today my middle kid boarded a plane to Honolulu to settle in and start his last semester of college. He is a geology student and although he has focused on hydrogeology, he has a keen interest in volcanoes—and where better to study volcanoes than Hawaii? This final semester—his semester abroad—is the end of a college career that started rocky, disappeared for awhile, but finally happened. When he decided he was ready for college, he became a serious student and has done very well.

Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able?—as the title implies—stresses that students need to be ready, willing, and able to be successful in college. That sometimes means the student’s timetable is not the same as his or her parents. The important thing is not to force a student into college if he is not ready. I think I judged well on my son that I kissed goodbye today.

He had his share of trouble during high school, but being clever, intelligent, and charming he made his way through—a favorite with friends and teachers alike. However, he did get in trouble, oftentimes because he was bored. As his junior year wound down, he had already finished, and gone beyond, all requirements for graduation, save a one-semester government class. For his senior year, he proposed several “interesting,” but not challenging courses. He saw it as a year to have fun and coast; I saw it as prime opportunity to find trouble.

I suggested he finish his senior year mid-term and then do something useful and unusual. At first he was skeptical of my motives, but he eventually came around, but insisted he wanted to leave the country. Thanks to his dad’s connections, we were able to set up an internship for him and his older already-in-college brother with a non-governmental organization working in Peru. They both had a great experience and returned home about two days before graduation ceremonies.

Once home and graduated, he needed a plan. He knew our rule—we offered room, board, and tuition for full-time college students; we offered no financial support for other choices. He proclaimed he would attend the local community college and live with three other friends. I knew he wasn’t ready and tried to persuade him to just get a job and work awhile, but I couldn’t sway him. He went to class, hated it, did okay, and played hard. Toward the end of the second semester, he announced that I was, in fact, right, he didn’t really want to do college at that point. “I’m going to New Zealand,” he said. “Have a good time,” was our response.

And he did. He had a great time, worked when he needed money, played when he had it, and learned a lot about himself. After about nine months, he returned home, broke and needing a job quick. He took the first thing that came along—selling high-end vacuums and air-filtration systems. He turned out to be a good salesman, but hated every minute of it. Two weeks into the job, he announced he was ready for college.

The rest is history. He figured out the best study methods for himself, honestly told us that he knew he couldn’t work and do well in college, and made college his job. He had an internship this summer that paid well, provided him new beneficial experiences, and expanded his networks. He is hoping to network in Hawaii and land a volcano-related internship there. On the way to the airport he told me, “Who knows, maybe I can go to graduate school and focus on volcanology.”

His ticket was one-way to Hawaii—one way to the end of a successful college career, and beginning of the next stage—all on his own timetable.

June 18, 2014

It is the day after my middle kid’s 25th birthday, and I find myself reflecting on the paths my three children have taken toward their futures—some of it success and some of it not. In the past, when I have spoken to parents about Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able?, I have used my three children as examples of the different paths teenagers may choose. Mine are no longer teenagers, yet their journeys toward college success and life beyond high school is still evolving.

My oldest went straight to the University of Colorado after graduating high school, struggled to choose a major, but did well and graduated four years ago. He landed a job in his field right away and was gainfully employed until this spring. As difficult as it was to lose his job, he sees it as the kick in the pants he needed. He feels he had “outgrown” his job and was ready to move on to something else—what? The same problem that plagued him in college remained—what did he want to do? He always assumed he would go to graduate school, and that is what he is planning to do. He has discovered that he can combine graduate school and the Peace Corps at Colorado State University, although he is still trying to decide which program to apply for. He now studies for the GRE and wishes he’d taken it within six months of graduation, is filling out the Peace Corps application and wishes he’d finished it two years ago, and works a part-time job. I still think he was, and is, ready, willing, and able to find his way.

The one who had a birthday yesterday took the bounce-around route through college. He finished high school a semester early, then went with his brother to Peru where they worked for a small nongovernmental organization. A great experience, but it still didn’t leave him “ready and willing” for college. Once home he insisted on going to our local community college despite me trying to discourage him to wait until he really wanted to go; I believe he went primarily because he knew that was the only way he’d get help from mom and dad with living expenses. The second semester he conceded that I was right—he wasn’t ready for college, but he was ready to travel. He put his savings together, and with our blessing, went to New Zealand for a year. He had a great adventure, learned a lot about himself, and returned broke. He took the first job that came along—selling high-end vacuum cleaners. Within two weeks, he announced that he was ready for college. Yes! He was serious about his studies, he figured out the best way for him to stay focused (attention-deficit issues), and he has done well. He will graduate in December, a semester behind schedule. He had to drop out last fall when he broke his leg after being hit by a car riding his bike home from class; he couldn’t participate in his geology field trips on crutches. He has a paid internship this summer, and hopes after graduation he will land a job doing field work. He doesn’t want to be in an office all the time. Will he be “successful?” He is easily bored. Will he eventually go to graduate school? Maybe, but not soon. Will he travel? I’m sure of it. When he returned from New Zealand, I knew he was ready, willing, and able to succeed in college. I think he’ll find his way.

My daughter, now three years past high school graduation, believes she is not ready, willing, and able to succeed in college. In her defense, she is plagued with undefined illnesses despite years of doctors and tests. She tried college for a semester, but took a medical withdraw. She tried an online class and withdrew within two weeks, again because of health constraints. She believes her health issues prevent her from working. It is a difficult situation, and one, that as a parent, is painful and heartbreaking to watch. She is an intelligent young woman paralyzed by her circumstances, unable to move forward. We latch on to the next “hope” and I pray that someday soon she will be ready, willing, and able to find her way.

The point of all this? Just to say that even after all we do to help and guide our teenagers to be ready, willing, and able to succeed beyond high school, it usually doesn’t look like what we envisioned. That is okay. If we do our best to give them the tools, the responsibilities, the freedoms, the consequences, allow them to experience failure, and the encouragement to try again, then I believe they have the best chance to find that path to success—no matter how long it takes.

Jan. 22, 2014

It is always encouraging to read about “experts” that confirm many of the points that are addressed in Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? Such was the case when I read a recent article by Forbes Contributor, Kathy Caprino, in which she interviewed “leadership expert” and author, Tim Elmore, about seven parenting practices that are harmful to our children’s chance to grow into mature, resilient, confident young adults. Elmore is the author of 25 books, included one titled: “Artificial Maturity: Helping Kids Meet the Challenges of Becoming Authentic Adults.”

I would combine two or three in his list to: We often don’t allow our kids to make mistakes or fail, nor do we acknowledge that sometimes they are simply mediocre at some sport or task. I’ve written in the past about the dangers of rescuing kids from every mistake or failure. It is inevitable that they will make mistakes and/or fail in many encounters in life. Our job as parents is to help them realize a mistake or failure is not the end of the world, help them learn and grow from the experience, and help them pick up and move on. This skill of moving through mistakes is crucial to success in college—otherwise a student becomes paralyzed with fear when confronted with his or her first difficult class.

Likewise, it is important that kids learn that they can’t be the best at everything. When my kids were playing recreational soccer, I was always annoyed with parents that wanted to buy trophies for every kid at the end of the season—aren’t treats at the end of the game enough? Trophies every time for everyone sets kids up to believe that they always will be rewarded regardless of their skill, and sets them up for devastation when they finally figure out that they really aren’t the best soccer player or guitarist or whatever. Elmore says it also can lead to young people who exaggerate or cannot face “difficult reality.”

Elmore also points out that parents sometimes mistake intelligence and giftedness for maturity. Just because a teenager makes straight As or is a gifted musician does not mean she is ready for independence. Being able to manage time and priorities, peaceably manage conflicts, knowing when and how to get help, or communicating clearly and effectively are not skills automatically attached to intelligence. They have to be taught and learned, and they are essential to college and career success.

Elmore’s other points include being a good example and sharing our past errors with our kids. He recommends “coaching instead of coddling—and caring enough to train them, not merely treating them to a good life.”

In other words, guide your child/teenager to be ready, willing, and able to succeed in college and beyond.

To read Caprino’s article, go to: http://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2014/01/16/7-crippling-parenting-behaviors-that-keep-children-from-growing-into-leaders/

Aug. 30, 2013

One of the points I make in Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able?, is that some parents don’t realize that once their teenagers reach the age of 18 they are protected under privacy laws. What that means is that parents cannot call their student’s college and request information about grades, discipline issues, or even tuition payments without the student’s consent. The same is true for medical issues. If your student ends up in the hospital, the hospital cannot release information without your student’s consent. If your student is unconscious, that could be a problem.

This issue was brought home to close family friends a couple of days ago. Their son just started his freshman year at a school that is about an eight-hour drive from the family home. Their son, riding his long board, collided with a bicycle and made a face plant onto concrete, breaking his nose and suffering a severe concussion. He did not go to the hospital right away, but called home to tell his mom that he was nauseous and feeling dizzy. Similar to a story in Toward College Success, this young man needed some direction during his time of difficulty. Mom told him to go to the hospital, where the concussion was diagnosed, but because the family had not gone previously to the local hospital and signed a release for the parents to receive information, my friends had to wait until hospital staff obtained that consent from their son. Luckily, he was coherent enough to do so.

In the meantime, the doctor ordered “brain rest”—no reading, studying, or anything strenuous for two weeks. The young man is an engineer major and missing two weeks of school could be difficult to manage. My friends drove out, picked up their son, and will decide over the long Labor Day weekend as to whether he should continue the semester.

The issue of giving access to parents hit me directly just yesterday. My son, Wes, flew to Honolulu to start his “semester abroad” at the University of Hawaii. He is a senior geology major and he is already excited about his volcanology and geology of Hawaii classes. In two weeks, he has fallen in love with hiking around the island, cliff jumping, and surfing.

Yesterday, he was biking home from class when he made a blind left turn and was struck by a car. He suffered a serious compound fracture to his leg, but miraculously no head or internal injuries. The only reason I knew about it immediately was because a man at the scene of the accident got my phone number from Wes and called me. The man gave me the name of the hospital and I was connected with the ER’s social worker. She was very helpful, and lucky for me, like my friend’s son, Wes was coherent enough to give his consent for release of his information. I had not followed my own advice to obtain a consent form in advance.

The hospital staff was very helpful and tried to relieve my anxiety, for which I am grateful because it was over 12 hours before I got to talk to Wes for the first time. He had surgery last night and I am scrambling to get a flight to Honolulu. Today I will call the university to ask about transportation services for students with mobility difficulty, and I will call his department to talk about the feasibility of his continuing in classes that have at least six field trips scheduled. If he does have to pull out of school, it will delay his graduation next May.

The message here is to check with the local hospital and find out how to obtain a consent form before an accident occurs. If my son, or my friend’s son, had been unconscious, there is no telling how long it would have taken to get information on their conditions. It is a worry and concern that can be avoided if parents insist on that consent in advance.

July 24, 2013

A couple of weeks ago, the Senate introduced the “Family Engagement in Education Act of 2013.” It, of course, must go through review and revision, with no guarantee of passage, but I thought it worth mentioning because one of the basic tenets of Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able? is that parents’ engagement in their children’s education is one of the important components to success in college and beyond.

The proposed bill states that Congress finds the following to be true:

1) Family engagement in a child’s education raises student achievement, improves behavior and attendance, decreases drop-out rates, and improves the emotional and physical well-being of children.

2) Families are critical determinants of children’s school readiness as well as of students’ decision to pursue higher education.

3) Effective family engagement is a great equalizer for students, contributing to their increased academic achievement, regardless of parents’ education level, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background.

4) Research on school improvement has identified meaningful partnerships with families and communities as one of five critical ingredients necessary to turnaround chronically low-performing schools.

5) Positive benefits for children, youth, families, and schools are maximized through effective family engagement that a) is a shared responsibility in which schools and other community agencies and organizations are committed to reaching out to engage families in meaningful ways and families are committed to actively supporting their children’s learning and development, b) is continuous across a child’s life from birth to young adulthood, and c) reinforces learning that takes place in all settings.

All of these findings ring true, and as school starts again in just a few weeks, parents should consider their involvement. As I point out in Toward College Success, parental involvement can begin with Back-to-School-Night, usually held during the first three weeks of school. It might have been novel when the child was in elementary school, but during middle and high school years, Back-to-School-Night gives parents important information that their teenagers will probably gloss over or not mention at all.

Pay attention at Back-to-School-Night. Learn your student’s teachers’ names and keep a copy of your student’s schedule. Most teachers hand out the course syllabus and general dates of importance: tests, projects, etc. You learn what is expected of your student and how he will be graded. Such knowledge alerts you to the right time to ask, “So, what are you doing in history right now?”

You also leave Back-to-School-Night with information about online tools to track your student’s grades and attendance, the best way to contact teachers, and what resources are available to help a struggling student. Be careful, however, not to hover over your teenager—the more she learns to manage her own time, schedule, and priorities, the more likely she will be successful when she leaves home for college or whatever she does after high school. A few strategically timed questions—When did you say that algebra test was?—is usually enough to get her to realize she’d better hit the books.  

Parental involvement is crucial in student success. Be visible in your involvement, ready to guide and offer suggestions, but never take over. Whether he verbalizes it or not, your student will realize you consider his education important enough to be involved and interested. In turn, his education becomes increasingly important to him—and success is at hand.

To read the Family Engagement in Education Act of 2013, go to http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/s1291/text.

April 30, 2013

There are a couple of local current events that are worth mentioning here. I’ll start with the “good news” story first. The son of close family friends was featured in our local paper, The Coloradoan this morning. Seth is finishing his freshman year at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. At age 19, Seth and his Colorado State University-attending friend Sean, have launched an outdoor garment company called Forecast Outerwear. They are using Kickstarter, the popular website that allows creative people to raise funds for projects, programs, or whatever. Seth and Sean have set their Kickstarter goal at $15,000 and I have little doubt that they will reach it. Seth is a focused entrepreneur, capable and competent—skills that will make him successful in college as well as in business.

 The Coloradoan asked Seth how he got his initial funding for the project. He replied that a lot came from savings and investments he made from a knitting business that he had years ago. I remember watching Seth knit away during backcountry skiing trips our families took together, thinking even then that as a boy Seth showed determination and stay-to power. Seth also was asked about his goals. He replied: “To be quite honest, I’m going to college as a backup option of getting a ‘standard’ job, but I would love to continue on with Forecast. It teaches me new, amazing things every day relevant to what I study that simply isn’t presented in a standard classroom setting.” Way to go Seth! You are definitely on the path to success.

 The other local story is not a positive one. This past weekend, when our finicky Colorado weather finally turned nice for a few days, several college parties in close proximity were declared open on social media sites. Hundreds of students turned up for the parties, and as could be expected by clear-thinking individuals, things got out of hand, complaints were made, and the police showed up in force. The scene turned into a “riot” with students breaking beer bottles and smashing windshields, and aggressively confronting the police when told to break it up and go home. The police regrouped, donned riot gear, and sprayed the crowds with tear gas and pepper spray. Now the incident is under investigation by both the local police and Colorado State. Undoubtedly, there will be students who will face criminal charges as well as possible suspensions or even expulsion by CSU.

 I bring this up because I was interviewed last night by Neil Haley of the Total Education Network syndicated radio program to discuss what I call the “expectation talk” with graduating high school seniors who are college-bound. Parents need to discuss and make clear their expectations regarding their student’s college experience. Those expectations should cover financial issues and academics, but I also stress that parents need to consider social/behavioral expectations.

 When our teenagers go off to college, they look forward to making decisions about social activities without parent restrictions—they can go to a party on a school night, they are in charge of deciding when to do homework, they can decide how late to stay up, and on it goes. Although parents cannot—and should not—control those decisions, they should discuss what will happen if their teenager finds himself in trouble with law enforcement. Because of FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), there is a good chance parents won’t hear about any trouble unless the student feels it is time to involve mom and dad. You may not hear about a sordid incident until your student makes a phone call from the county jail or shows up at home, suitcase in hand, trying to explain how he got kicked out of school.

 So the question is: What are you going to do at that point? Think about it in advance and discuss it with your student. If he or she knows what the home-front consequence will be, it may make a big difference in the decisions they make at the time. It makes for a much easier solution if expectations are clear before the student calls mid-term with a problem. If she understands all expectations before you leave her at the dorm parking lot, she has a better chance of succeeding in her college experience.

March 26, 2013

Last week I wrote about various alternative high school programs that allowed students opportunities to gain college credit, work experience, or internships all while working toward high school graduation. It seems that educators post daily articles and blogs about the need to move toward a “redesign” of high schools to increase students’ college and career readiness. And data seems to be backing them up. For example, an October 2012 report from Jobs for the Future did a study in Texas that found high school students who had taken at least one college course while enrolled in high school “were nearly 50 percent more likely to earn a college degree from a Texas college within six years than students who had not participated in dual enrollment.”

 Another study, “Opportunity by Design: New High School Model for Student Success” by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, contends that in order to be prepared to meet the Common Core Standards, many high schools will need to “redesign.” The Carnegie study points to schools that have increased student engagement and graduation rates through smaller schools, real-world experiences with community businesses, more personal attention to individual student academic progress, and a comprehensive academic curriculum as well as dual programs.

 I found, however, part of the statement written by Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation, to be particularly telling: “….while it is important to graduate from high school, high school is not an end into itself, but rather preparation for college as well as life-long learning. It is one part of the path that leads students toward their ultimate potential in any field of endeavor as well as in finding personal satisfaction in their lives.”

 It is, in fact, during those high school years that a student should be learning the skills she needs to be successful in college and career. Redesigning high schools to more fully engage students and offering dual programs are part of moving them toward success, but there is another important component here. I believe parents need to see their role in this whole discussion; parents need to be as involved as the school in moving their teenager toward success. At home, parents need to be teaching time, conflict, and financial management. They need to give their teenagers graduated responsibilities. They need to model an interest in learning, keep communication open, and learn to listen to their teenager. Without these non-academic but important life skills, redesigned high schools will still struggle to prepare students for college and career success. It take parents, schools, and communities working together to move teenagers toward college and career success.

 To read the Jobs for the Future report: http://www.jff.org/publications/education/taking-college-courses-high-school-strat/1475

To read the Carnegie report: http://carnegie.org/fileadmin/Media/Programs/Opportunity_by_design/Opportunity_By_Design_FINAL.pdf

Feb. 26, 2013

In yesterday’s Huffington Post College blog, editor Shelley Emling, told the story of her academically-gifted son’s college application process. He visited and applied to some top schools: MIT, Tufts, Harvard, Boston College, to name a few. Emling never worried about his grades and test scores, but she was very curious as to what he would write in his admissions essay. She and her son understood that the essay was where he could shine; where he could distinguish himself and show he would be a successful college student.

 To her surprise, Emling’s son refused to let her or his dad read the essay. He told them it was personal and that it was something he wanted to do on his own. His dad accepted that decision, but Emling argued that she and her husband were paying for their son’s college education and that they had a stake in its outcome. She didn’t want to change anything, just see it. In the end, her 17-year-old son convinced her with this logic: “Mom, I’ve been good all through high school. I’ve always gotten good grades. I don’t think I’ve ever really disappointed you. Can’t you just trust me now? Just this once?”

 So, Emling asked the questions: “Did I make the correct call? Does a parent have the right to review their kid’s college essay?” She answered herself somewhat by saying that “if you’ve raised a good kid you just have to trust them.”

 I think it is more than that. I think parents must see to it that their teenagers figure some things out on their own, then be there if they make mistakes to teach them to cope with the mistake, learn from it, and move on. They will need that type of skill to be successful when they leave home for college or whatever they do after high school.

 I found the discussion following Emling’s article to be insightful. The whole gamut of parenting came through from: he’s 17 and living at home so you have a right to read the essay, to butt out mom and dad. Many who said Emling had the right to read the essay also felt she made the right decision to leave it be when he made his argument. The most eloquent response came from a father who was applying to a high school for performing and visual arts—which means this was a middle schooler. Her dad wrote:

 “She submitted a writing portfolio in one of her fields. All I told her was write about something you know about. She gave it to me to read. The poetry and short stories were dark, detailed, and impressive. I did not review or comment on the content. I made two editing suggestions, one she ignored, and then she submitted it. She qualified academically, she passed the first auditions in both writing and vocal, and just finished with her final callback auditions. She feels good about the process. I suggested the school, but she embraced the idea. When she went to visit, I delivered her, then stepped back while she interviewed them, unlike many whose parents seemed to be doing all the talking. If (and when, we hope) she gets in, it will be on her own merit. She’ll never have any reason to doubt that it was her own ability that got her in. And that’s how it should be. Sometimes you have to step back and watch your child take wing and fly for themselves.”

 Eventually we all have to step back and watch our children take wing and fly for themselves. This dad had obviously raised a capable young woman. If we give our kids gradual responsibilities, let them learn from mistakes, guide them when they ask for help, and let them make decisions about their own future, then we will have developed teenagers who are ready, willing, and able to succeed in college and beyond.

 To read Emling’s article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shelley-emling/common-application-essay-college_b_2744147.html?utm_hp_ref=college&ir=College