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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 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 affinitycoachinggroup.com.
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    2 days ago
    CollegiateParent

    Dorm decorating has become an industry.

    There are professional dorm decorators, décor kits, Pinterest boards, etc. There are even colleges and universities with reputations for high level décor by their students.

    I’d like to share some thoughts about décor for parents and students to consider.

    Room Furnishings Policy

    Every Residence Life Department has a dorm decorating policy in place. It is so important to follow the rules to avoid fines for damages, missing items, etc. Many residence halls restrict the use of tape and adhesive products because they aren’t always removed properly and despite the “no damage” promise can damage walls and doors. Decorating policies can vary widely because they’re based on the particular building and its paint, furniture, etc.

    Furniture

    Room furniture provided by the college and university is required to remain in the room unless other arrangements have been made (for example, because of a medical accommodation). This means any furniture removed (without the school’s approval) is the responsibility of the student(s) assigned to the room. Work with the furniture in your space.

    Also, be mindful when adjusting beds because if the bed is damaged, you are responsible for the cost. Always contact staff to receive assistance. Some colleges have loft kits available to rent to raise your bed. Check your housing website or handbook for details.

    Roommates’ Décor

    Students (and their families) often get excited about decorating and want to include the roommate on the venture. While this is a friendly gesture, be mindful there may be limitations for the roommate. I recently saw a TikTok video where a parent asks their student’s roommate to purchase a certain set of bedding from Amazon. The student couldn’t afford it and the parent was upset and requested a roommate change for their student.

    While this seems extreme it’s not uncommon. Here are a few things to consider when it comes to coordinating with roommates:

    The roommate has their own style.

    Everyone doesn’t want to match their roommate’s décor.

    Everyone can’t afford the same things.

    A student can ask their roommate but there is no obligation to say yes.

    Also, a parent should never reach out to a student’s roommate without permission. If the families don’t know each other, it can cause anxiety for both students. Roommates should communicate with one another directly.

    Decorating a dorm room can be a fun, exciting experience. Of course you want to help make that space as comfortable as possible for your student! Just remember to consider the policies, be respectful of the other roommate(s), and don’t overdo the décor because sometimes space is limited. It’s best to start with a small number of items and then add if needed.

    Happy Decorating!

    - from LaTrina Rogers, The Dorm Mom
    ... See MoreSee Less

    Dorm decorating has become an industry.  There are professional dorm decorators, décor kits, Pinterest boards, etc. There are even colleges and universities with reputations for high level décor by their students.  I’d like to share some thoughts about décor for parents and students to consider.  Room Furnishings Policy  Every Residence Life Department has a dorm decorating policy in place. It is so important to follow the rules to avoid fines for damages, missing items, etc. Many residence halls restrict the use of tape and adhesive products because they aren’t always removed properly and despite the “no damage” promise can damage walls and doors. Decorating policies can vary widely because they’re based on the particular building and its paint, furniture, etc.  Furniture  Room furniture provided by the college and university is required to remain in the room unless other arrangements have been made (for example, because of a medical accommodation). This means any furniture removed (without the school’s approval) is the responsibility of the student(s) assigned to the room. Work with the furniture in your space.  Also, be mindful when adjusting beds because if the bed is damaged, you are responsible for the cost. Always contact staff to receive assistance. Some colleges have loft kits available to rent to raise your bed. Check your housing website or handbook for details.  Roommates’ Décor  Students (and their families) often get excited about decorating and want to include the roommate on the venture. While this is a friendly gesture, be mindful there may be limitations for the roommate. I recently saw a TikTok video where a parent asks their student’s roommate to purchase a certain set of bedding from Amazon. The student couldn’t afford it and the parent was upset and requested a roommate change for their student.  While this seems extreme it’s not uncommon. Here are a few things to consider when it comes to coordinating with roommates:  The roommate has their own style.  Everyone doesn’t want to match their roommate’s décor.  Everyone can’t afford the same things.  A student can ask their roommate but there is no obligation to say yes.  Also, a parent should never reach out to a student’s roommate without permission. If the families don’t know each other, it can cause anxiety for both students. Roommates should communicate with one another directly.  Decorating a dorm room can be a fun, exciting experience. Of course you want to help make that space as comfortable as possible for your student! Just remember to consider the policies, be respectful of the other roommate(s), and don’t overdo the décor because sometimes space is limited. It’s best to start with a small number of items and then add if needed.  Happy Decorating!  - from LaTrina Rogers, The Dorm Mom

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