Safeguarding Your Teen’s Mental Health Through the College Admissions Process
It’s October, and you know what that means – it’s spooky season! No, I am not referring to Halloween, although that is around the corner; spookier still, for many high school seniors and their families, is the time period when college applications are being completed and submitted, and kids are grappling with major decisions about their futures while also completing academic requirements, preparing for college entrance exams, and keeping up with extracurricular activities. It is a time of life that is inherently prone to the stress of transitions and the unknown, but especially in recent years, the college admissions process has taken on a life of its own, and many teens (and their families) are finding themselves anxious and overwhelmed.
The good news is that there are many things that parents can do to help their teens cope and stay healthy during this time period. A good place for parents to start is with examining their own attitudes and expectations about the college admissions process and their children’s achievements and futures. Taking a big-picture viewpoint is key. An important question to ask yourself: “What do I most wish for when it comes to my child’s future?” Again, think big picture, beyond the admissions decisions and even beyond the next four years – what are your values, and the values that you want to share with your child? Chances are that the answer won’t involve any one particular college. If you find that you are struggling from anxiety and uncertainty over the process, talk to someone close to you or to a mental health professional – your attitude will impact your child more than anything else.
Other strategies for helping your child stay grounded, positive, and healthy during this time include:
Don’t let college admissions monopolize your conversations with your child. Remember that they have many other things going in on their lives right now – and that there is more to life in general.
Let your child know that you are proud of them for who they are, how they treat others, how hard they work, their commitment to their goals and passions – things that have nothing to do with college acceptances. Emphasize that who they are is what’s important, and that admissions committee decisions are not a measure of their worth or your feelings towards them.
Encourage balance. In the race to “build a resume”, it is tempting to take a more-is-better approach, and load kids up with all the most rigorous classes, multiple extracurricular activities, and endless rounds of college entrance exams. This can easily lead to burnout, including poor physical and mental health as well as loss of motivation, and ultimately will not guarantee admission to any particular college. Instead, focus on balance and quality over quantity. Yes, the college years are important, but so is the present moment, and living in the present rather than just the future is an important skill for kids to learn.
Help maintain healthy habits. Sufficient sleep, healthy eating habits, exercise, doing activities they enjoy, and spending time with people they care about are all protective factors against the stress that comes with the college admissions process. Physical and mental health go hand in hand, and good habits such as these will increase your child’s resilience, not just through this process but as they experience life stressors in the future.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember during this time is that, like the Halloween “spooky season”, the college admissions process is just a season – and it will ultimately pass. Your child will have a plan for post-high school, and if for some reason that plan doesn’t work out the way they would like, they can always pivot. The pressure of this season will become a distant memory – but the values you express, and the beliefs and habits that your child builds during the process, can help them grow into healthy, resilient human beings as they move into their adult lives.
At The Hellenic Therapy Center, 567 Park Avenue, Scotch Plains, NJ we have a team of licensed professionals available day, evening andweekend hours. Please visit us at www.hellenictherapy.com, FaceBook or Instagram. Call us at 908-322-0112 for further information.