Some decisions are mundane, like choosing what to eat for breakfast. Others, though, can feel grandiose. Like deciding where to attend college.
On Tuesday, National College Acceptance Day and the deadline to accept admission into a university, thousands of high school seniors will decide where they will spend the next four years of their lives.
This decision-making process can dredge up a whirlwind of emotions for any college-bound teen, but it can be especially hard for students who don’t get accepted into their desired colleges — students who are choosing “safety schools.”
This is due to developing teens’ sensitivity to rejection says Gail Saltz, an associate psychiatry professor at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell Medical College and a psychoanalyst with the New York Psychoanalytic Institute.
“The idea of ‘we don’t want you’ is difficult for anybody, but really difficult during adolescent years,” said Saltz. “These years are such a developmental time of looking for identity, and the belief that you may have found your identity and have it be undone (by this rejection) can feel particularly devastating.”
But Saltz explained that where teens choose to attend college does not define them.
“There’s such an emphasis placed on where you go to college, as if that’s a reflection of success, failure or identity,” she explained. “Intellectually, parents and students know that there are so many factors in this college admissions process, but that idea still prevails.”
So what can parents do to help their child cope with the disappointment? Below, Saltz offers six tips.
Be understanding and comforting. “Listen to your child, as opposed to saying they shouldn’t feel the way they do,” Saltz said. “Negating their comments and feelings can make them feel worse, more isolated or alone. Be willing to listen to them.”
Don’t join in on your child’s feelings. “Don’t say this is a disaster or be angry and try to fight the school about their decision,” said Saltz. “Those things are not helpful and will help a child stay mired in their present anguish.”
Celebrate where your child is going. “They picked that safety school for a reason,” said Saltz, “so there are things they like about it, and that’s what you want to delve in on. Focus on the special programs, go for a visit, look on the web and basically see what the child can be excited about. Prove the fun, cool and intellectual aspects that are going to be there for the child to partake in.”
Help your child have perspective. “Right now, this feels like the singular most important thing in the world, and your child can’t imagine it ever won’t be,” she said. “The reality is that within a year of being at school, pretty much everybody is pretty happy where they end up. Tell them they’ll likely excel and will not feel this way come the end of the school year. They’ll find their people, their place, and they’ll be happy even if it doesn’t feel that way right now.”
Realize your messaging to your child. “Tell them: ‘You are not your school. Your school is a place to go to do good stuff and get good stuff for yourself.’”
Cultivate resilience. “There will be more difficult things to come along, and figuring out how one manages that and not have it consume their life is important and valuable.”
Say you’re proud of your child. “What you’re really proud of is all the work your child has put in during high school, with their applications and their activities. The ‘where they go’ does not define the summation of all the hard work. The work is what you’re proud of them for, and be clear about that.”
Is it smart for parents to buy a house for their college kid, then rent out the rooms? »
How to tell your children you can’t afford to buy new school gear »
How to avoid parental burnout this holiday season »