My College:
Dear Adina

Will Encouraging "Safety Schools" Demoralize My Child?

Adina Glickman

Dear Adina,

With application numbers off the charts and no competitive school being a true "safety school," how do you advise your child who works really hard, gets good grades (A-/B+) but is less developed on the extracurricular front to further explore less competitive, less known or established programs? And not have them feel that their parents feel "they can't cut it"?

Dear Parent,

This may be a no-brainer for you, but just in case, I suggest asking your child if they’d like you to be involved in their process, and if so, to what degree. Asking this question is both respectful of them and also allows any ensuing conversation to flow from their choice and how they’ve articulated it.

To your question about them picking up on your doubts, the answer is yes, they will read your doubts as if they were printed on your forehead. Isn’t it maddening how our kids see right into us? We think we’re so big and bad, all grown-up with life experience and an inner world that remains private to us and hidden from them.

But our kids have finely tuned radar about how we feel — sometimes before we’re even aware we’re feeling it. They develop that radar as a survival resource: before they have words, they have feelings, and they tune themselves to our emotional palette. Then, when they express their need for love and protection, their emotional communication feels familiar to us. And they exasperate and push us to the limits of our patience, but not so much that we disown them.

So, the short answer is that yes, if you feel like they can’t cut it, they’ll feel it too. But let’s back up to where the idea that they can’t cut it comes from. It sounds like in the background, you’ve been a loving and encouraging parent who hasn’t pressured them to do more than they can or want to. You’ve valued hard work. You’ve probably not insisted on straight A’s. Please consider adopting ten or twelve more children and communicating that message to them because, wow, that’s gold.

Most parental doubts carry with them more of the parents’ own worries and anxieties than truths about their child. Almost always, when I talk with parents about their doubts and worries about their children’s future, I help them see that they’re really talking to themselves. They may think they’re saying things like “can they cut it?” but in fact they’re examining their own insecurities about the job they’ve done being a parent. It sounds to me like, given your child’s ability to stay their course even while others may be overloading their schedules and your ability to explore the subtleties of how you communicate with them, you’re both doing great.

Another way of looking at this is that you have been the parent your child needs. Don’t change it up now just because you’re facing this gigantic transition in your parenting relationship! You’ve helped them become a hard worker who’s doing well in school. Whatever in your inner world has allowed you to do that, trust it!

You are encountering a devilish bind that all parents face. You are caught between two things: (1) your gut intuition that your child is exactly who they should be and you have every confidence that their bright and joyful life will unfold beautifully, and (2) your awareness of the world (with its shaky economy and messy political and social panorama where money, jobs and opportunities appear to be scarce) as a hostile environment in which your child must compete for everything that is important.

But our awareness reflects the experiences we’ve had in our own lives, and in that way, we are often hugely out of step with our kids’ experiences. Our job as parents is to keep telling our children they can figure it out and that we’re not smarter than they are.

So, don’t talk to them until you can look them straight in the eyes and with all of your being know that your firmly held truth is that they will find their way in this process and do a fantastic job of it.


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Adina Glickman is the founder of Affinity Coaching Group, which offers academic, life, parenting and career coaching. She is the former director of learning strategies at Stanford University and is the co-founder and director of the Academic Resilience Consortium, an association of faculty, staff and students dedicated to understanding and promoting student resilience. Learn more at
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