Get stories and expert advice on all things related to college and parenting.
Finding Patience with Your New College Student — And YourselfJennifer Sullivan
One of the things I love most about coaching students is having that first call with their parents.
I love that, when they ask me to fix their broken teen, I get to tell them their teen isn’t broken. And that they as parents aren’t broken. And that all hope is not lost.
Especially after eight months of pandemic isolation, it’s hard for any of us to retain any kind of perspective on what constitutes broken.
I get to say things to parents that no one else usually says to them. I say things like, “You need to keep reminding your teen how much you love them and believe in them. Tell them how terrific they are and how sure you are that they’re going to be okay.”
These statements usually yield a number of responses somewhere in the neighborhood of tears or confused silence. It’s as if saying out loud what they’re thinking and feeling all the time somehow astonishes with its rule-breaking simplicity. It’s not the sentiment that brings on the thunderstruck quietude, it’s the saying out loud.
We think about them even when we’re not thinking about them. On some level we are continuously pondering their health, their happiness, their academic foibles, their social lives, whether they’re eating enough leafy greens, whether they’re telling us how they really are, whether they’re telling anyone how they really are.
And during most of this silent internal rumination, we are feeling all kinds of love for them. When they’re happy and thriving, we’re beaming — beaming I tell you! — because we feel so much love and admiration for them. When they’re struggling and sad, we’re thinking about how hard being them is. And in those darker moments, though the beaming love may be buried under worry, the absolute confidence we have that tomorrow is another day is trying to poke through.
And why don’t they hear our interior thoughts? Well, besides that they are, um, interior, it’s because our kids have a head full of noisy interior thoughts of their own. Remember what the inside of your head sounded like before you were your current wise and balanced self?
Am I a complete failure? What AM I going to be when I grow up? I wish my skin was better. I’m so bad at writing. Do my friends really like me? I don’t have enough friends. I’m so sick of school. My Instagram feed is dead. Maybe I should start a Story. Is that cancer on my toe? Are we gonna be okay? I love rainy days. I want a puppy. Tomorrow I’m going to bake a cake. If I ever get my homework done. I’m so bad at writing. Maybe I could be a journalist. Wait, did Nicki Minaj have her baby yet?
It’s wall-to-wall imagination in there, so consider breaking through it with your actual out loud words. Go ahead and tell your kids that you love them. Tell them you believe in them. And don’t forget to tell them that the bad things in the world aren’t their fault.
I know you might be deterred by the inevitable awkward silence or hairy eyeball you get in response. Our kids already think we’re dweebus pin-heads who don’t have a clue as to what makes the world go round. And we don’t want to sound like even more dweebusized pin-heads who lay on them such cliches as “I believe in you,” “I really love and admire you,” and “It’s not your fault.” But that’s the job, so speak up.
Especially when teens are so busy doubting themselves, it’s the right time to be out loud with your counter-measures. Go ahead and share some of that vast repertoire of cliches. Here’s one I’ll lay on you: If not you, who? If not now, when?