My College:
Dear Adina

Why Does My Smart Teen Lack Self-Confidence?

Adina Glickman


Dear Adina,

My 17-year-old daughter (junior in high school) is very smart — all A's in AP and Honors classes, but lacks a degree of self-confidence. When I asked her about searching for a college she might like, she is basically less than interested (at least outwardly).

Any suggestions for an approach to this? She is aware that the basic expectation is that she has higher education in her future, as her brother is a college sophomore. Thanks for your help.


Dear Parent,

There’s a lot to unpack here. The basic facts (A’s in difficult courses, a brother in college) alongside your perceptions (her lack of confidence, disinterest in looking at colleges) alongside what may or may not be a shared expectation that she attend college, are all floating around without a real sense of how they connect to one another.

A missing link here is what is actually going on inside your daughter’s head and heart about all of these things, so I hope you consider approaching this by asking her some questions.

If I were sitting in the room, I would want to ask:

  • “Does getting A’s in AP and Honors classes feel satisfying?”
    Maybe she’s doing it just to please you or her teachers but it doesn’t feel like it has much intrinsic value. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, “What kinds of things bring you a feeling of satisfaction?”
  • “How did you get all those A’s?”
    You may attribute them to being smart, but she may attribute them to good luck. In fact her achievements in school are in large part due to the time and effort she has invested — the hard work rather than innate smartness. Since effort is something she has control over (rather than seeing her intelligence as something that “is” or “isn’t”), you might help her see that she is making the good things happen, and that she can continue to do that. People who have been told they’re smart often find that when they encounter something that’s difficult, they think their smartness has reached its limit. But if they see success as a result of effort rather than intelligence, they roll up their sleeves and work even harder.
  • “What do you think and feel about my expectation that you go to college?”
    Maybe she doesn’t see college as the right step for her but doesn’t want to disappoint you. Or she feels she has to present a good alternative and she needs your help thinking that through. You might also probe her perceptions of her brother’s experience, and whether she feels she must live up to his example.
  • “How does my expectation line up with what you want for yourself?”
    Maybe she’s never asked herself what she wants. Or she has a potent inner critic that shuts down her creative thinking about it. Or she doesn’t see the point of college if it’s going to be like COVID-high-school all over again.
  • “How are things going with you and your friends?”
    Maybe her confidence has nothing to do with academics and it’s social stuff that is shaking her.

She may also be overwhelmed by the entire endeavor of identifying colleges that she’d be interested in. Big state school? Small liberal arts college? Driving or flying distance from home?

It can help to ask “why” instead of “where” she wants to go. So instead of trying to narrow the field by using external criteria like location and size, you get at what kinds of experiences she wants to have — intellectually, personally and socially.

For some reason, “Where do you want to go to college?” seems to have become conflated with the other impossible question “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It might be helpful to remember (and remind your daughter!) that going to college is not tantamount to deciding on a career. College can be many things — a time to be curious and learn stuff, a place to meet people and reinvent yourself outside of the image you’ve carried thus far, an opportunity to not be someone’s child, and so on. It’s heartbreaking that so many young people only see college as a utilitarian fulfillment of parental or societal expectations or an uninspiring passport stamp that they have to get to move on to having a job.

It’s always so odd to realize that parenting evolves from our up-close-and-personal relationship with the nooks and crannies of our babies’ bodies to the time when we only glimpse the backs of their heads before they shut the door to their room. They go from being open books to obscured wisps that fly by us in a blur on their way to their lives as independent adults.

Those confusing years when they are neither transparent child nor independent adult are the mystery of the opaque teen. I applaud your interest in uncovering those mysteries. By approaching them with genuine curiosity and a sense of discovery, you are making an investment in communicating that will ground your relationship for years to come.

Yours,

Adina Signature

Have a question? Ask Adina

Adina Glickman is the founder of Affinity Coaching, which offers academic, life and career coaching to young adults. 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 adinaglickman.com.

Comments are closed.

  • Have a question? Ask Adina
  • Comments Box SVG iconsUsed for the like, share, comment, and reaction icons
    18 hours ago
    CollegiateParent

    Hey Colleges – How About a School Picture Day?

    When my kids were in elementary school, I always tried to volunteer on School Picture Day. It was fun to see all the students each year looking photo-ready, many with new haircuts, outfits, and big smiles. The perk for keeping kids in line all day and refereeing battles with plastic combs was a free basic photo
    package of your child.

    And any parent who has paid for school pictures knows this is sweet swag, because school pics are pricey. And the marketing geniuses at these photo companies know how to sucker parents. They’d send home an enormous packet full of all kinds of glossy photos of your adorable, precious child. Big prints, small prints, wallet-sized prints, bookmarks, and heart-shaped keychain pics. And that was just the start!

    If you went to their website, you could find a hundred more products to purchase, so that every living relative of yours could receive a mug, a calendar, or a magnet. And they made it difficult to simply buy one class photo and a 5” x 7” for your desk frame. Even the smallest packages had stuff you didn’t want, which is why we all have dusty boxes full of kid pictures stuffed away in our closets. (If you don’t, I’m impressed with your purging skills.)

    But what I grasp now is that having our elementary kids line up each year at school on two occasions – for fall and spring pictures – was not really what we needed. Our kids were living in our houses then, and we saw them up close and personal every single day. To the point where we often closed our eyes, took some deep, cleansing breaths, and wished we could just disappear for an hour and NOT see their sweet, little faces.

    Plus, we could take our own pictures of them any darn time we wanted – at their games, their performances, during spirit week, and on their birthdays. We had an overabundance of photo ops.
    But now we’re college parents, and our kids aren’t living with us. We’re not closing our eyes in frustration, sneaking off for a little peace and quiet in our bathrooms. (Or was that just me?) We’re
    closing our eyes and wishing that our kids were about to walk in the door and ask for a snack, just like they did when they were seven.

    Many of us haven’t gotten more than a couple peace-sign selfies since they left home a month ago. We miss their faces, and right now I’d pay a ridiculous price for a picture of my smiling son on a mug, with cheesy, autumn trees Photoshopped in behind him.

    It shouldn’t be too much to ask colleges for a fall photo of our kids. We won’t care about backgrounds -most of their campuses have beautiful architecture and green spaces at the ready. Is it too much to ask for one quick shot, in between classes? I’m willing to bet more of us would purchase a package now.

    Let’s try this, college!

    - Marybeth Loyd Bock, MPH
    ... See MoreSee Less

    Hey Colleges – How About a School Picture Day?  When my kids were in elementary school, I always tried to volunteer on School Picture Day. It was fun to see all the students each year looking photo-ready, many with new haircuts, outfits, and big smiles. The perk for keeping kids in line all day and refereeing battles with plastic combs was a free basic photo
package of your child.  And any parent who has paid for school pictures knows this is sweet swag, because school pics are pricey. And the marketing geniuses at these photo companies know how to sucker parents. They’d send home an enormous packet full of all kinds of glossy photos of your adorable, precious child. Big prints, small prints, wallet-sized prints, bookmarks, and heart-shaped keychain pics. And that was just the start!  If you went to their website, you could find a hundred more products to purchase, so that every living relative of yours could receive a mug, a calendar, or a magnet. And they made it difficult to simply buy one class photo and a 5” x 7” for your desk frame. Even the smallest packages had stuff you didn’t want, which is why we all have dusty boxes full of kid pictures stuffed away in our closets. (If you don’t, I’m impressed with your purging skills.)  But what I grasp now is that having our elementary kids line up each year at school on two occasions – for fall and spring pictures – was not really what we needed. Our kids were living in our houses then, and we saw them up close and personal every single day. To the point where we often closed our eyes, took some deep, cleansing breaths, and wished we could just disappear for an hour and NOT see their sweet, little faces.  Plus, we could take our own pictures of them any darn time we wanted – at their games, their performances, during spirit week, and on their birthdays. We had an overabundance of photo ops.
But now we’re college parents, and our kids aren’t living with us. We’re not closing our eyes in frustration, sneaking off for a little peace and quiet in our bathrooms. (Or was that just me?) We’re
closing our eyes and wishing that our kids were about to walk in the door and ask for a snack, just like they did when they were seven.  Many of us haven’t gotten more than a couple peace-sign selfies since they left home a month ago. We miss their faces, and right now I’d pay a ridiculous price for a picture of my smiling son on a mug, with cheesy, autumn trees Photoshopped in behind him.  It shouldn’t be too much to ask colleges for a fall photo of our kids. We won’t care about backgrounds -most of their campuses have beautiful architecture and green spaces at the ready. Is it too much to ask for one quick shot, in between classes? I’m willing to bet more of us would purchase a package now.  Let’s try this, college!  - Marybeth Loyd Bock, MPH

    Comment on Facebook

    Marybeth Loyd Bock this is too funny- takes me back - I still have those crazy plastic photo keychains! 😂

    Goodness, I’d love a glimpse of my college freshman “out in the wild”!

    I would LOVE this 💖

    22 hours ago
    CollegiateParent

    My daughter has been busy from morning till night with a flurry of activities to welcome new students to her college campus. There’s been mini golf on the lawn, epic games of giant Jenga, bingo nights, spa nights, dorm meetings, roommate bonding activities, and a class photo with every new student sporting their crisp class t-shirts in a beautiful shade of emerald, for they are the new green class of 2025.

    Except my daughter is actually a member of her school’s red class. The class of 2024.

    She is a sophomore returning to her campus as an Orientation Mentor, providing guidance, support and information to new students as they join the college community. She’s been tasked with supporting new students in a transition she never experienced in this traditional way.

    Her own first-year orientation was virtual due to the raging pandemic last fall. And while she was so grateful to be able to start her college experience on campus a year ago (many students didn't have that option), there were no in-person meet-ups, no class picnics and games on the lawn, and no roommate to share a new space and a new life with. Like most of the entering class of 2024, her college experience was lived through a computer screen and socially distanced small gatherings, grab-and-go meals and masked faces.

    My daughter is thrilled to have this opportunity to participate in (secondhand through the freshmen) the in-person college orientation she never had. Although she admits it’s bittersweet as she now realizes all that she — and all this year's sophomores — missed.

    (continue reading this blog post from No Sick Days For Mom—Cheryl Gottlieb Boxer, Writer:
    www.collegiateparent.com/student-life/our-sophomores-are-still-new/ )
    ... See MoreSee Less

    My daughter has been busy from morning till night with a flurry of activities to welcome new students to her college campus. There’s been mini golf on the lawn, epic games of giant Jenga, bingo nights, spa nights, dorm meetings, roommate bonding activities, and a class photo with every new student sporting their crisp class t-shirts in a beautiful shade of emerald, for they are the new green class of 2025.  Except my daughter is actually a member of her school’s red class. The class of 2024.  She is a sophomore returning to her campus as an Orientation Mentor, providing guidance, support and information to new students as they join the college community. She’s been tasked with supporting new students in a transition she never experienced in this traditional way.  Her own first-year orientation was virtual due to the raging pandemic last fall. And while she was so grateful to be able to start her college experience on campus a year ago (many students didnt have that option), there were no in-person meet-ups, no class picnics and games on the lawn, and no roommate to share a new space and a new life with. Like most of the entering class of 2024, her college experience was lived through a computer screen and socially distanced small gatherings, grab-and-go meals and masked faces.  My daughter is thrilled to have this opportunity to participate in (secondhand through the freshmen) the in-person college orientation she never had. Although she admits it’s bittersweet as she now realizes all that she — and all this years sophomores — missed.  (continue reading this blog post from No Sick Days For Mom—Cheryl Gottlieb Boxer, Writer:
https://www.collegiateparent.com/student-life/our-sophomores-are-still-new/ )

    Comment on Facebook

    CollegiateParent, thank you so much for this opportunity.

    SUCH good, practical, and wise advice here, Cheryl Gottlieb Boxer, for any of our students, really. 💛

    Elizabeth, thank you so much. I appreciate that. ❤️

    Soooo true, all of this. Our sophomores are rediscovering, relearning, renegotiating the whole campus experience. Last year was tough, but I hope that last year's experience has made them stronger and more resilient to anything life throws at them this year. All strength to them! ❤️

    Load more
  • Don't Miss Out!

    Get engaging stories and helpful information all year long. Join our college parent newsletter!

    Subscribe Today