By Kendell Shaffer
“At Thanksgiving do we have to talk about college?” Sydney asked in the car ride to school this morning. “I’m exhausted. I just can’t anymore.” I don’t blame her. It’s been non-stop college talk at our house since last Spring. I’m really hoping that by Thanksgiving, she will have finished her applications so that she can enjoy the rest of the year. But I do know it’s going to be the question on everyone’s mind. Because, let’s face it, college was a great time of life. And adults love to reminisce.
Her dad and I are very interested in her college career. We think college is super important and want to help her navigate through the overwhelming options. My thinking is that if her last year at home is dominated by the college process, then I’ll throw myself into it too. This way there is always something for us to talk about. We can help guide her, without pushing and talk about the future in educated ways. We like hanging out with our kids and knowing what they are interested in, so naturally we’re interested in learning about the college process.
I meet parents all the time who are hands off with the college search. Sometimes they don’t even know where their kids are applying. I know teenagers like some anonymity, but if you find clever ways to engage with them you can learn a lot. If they don’t want to talk about themselves, ask them what schools their friends are interested in. By taking the focus off your child, you might be able to find out what they are thinking and then the conversation might shift naturally back to them. I remember when my kids were little reading an article that suggested when your kids come home from school, don’t ask how school was. They will most likely answer with a one word answer like, “Fine.” But if you ask specific questions like, “Who did you sit next to at lunch?” their answer will most likely lead into something interesting that happened that day. I think the same technique can work with teens. Take the focus off them and and their ideas and feelings might eventually reveal themselves.
As we visit family and friends for Thanksgiving, I know college will be a big subject. College is a great ice breaker when talking to a senior or junior high school student. Everyone loves to tell college stories and it’s a fun conversation starter. Aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents get a twinkle in their eyes when they reminisce about their youth. Parents might tell a story or two that they have never shared before. My kids love to hear about old girlfriends and boyfriends. Even college heart breaks are up for grabs.
Listening to grownups telling college stories allows the kids grow up a bit too. It puts them at the adult table. They start to feel older. Next Thanksgiving the seniors will be the ones coming in from the airport with stories to tell. Their younger siblings, cousins and friends will listen more carefully and soak in every word.
I can’t promise Sydney that no one will ask her what colleges she is applying to. But I bet she will relish in the support from her family and friends and seek out their advice and take in their stories. It’s hard to imagine that next year she’ll be the one serving advice to the younger ones at the table. But I know she’ll have a bounty of stories and advice to share and maybe even a few leftovers.