Monday, February 4, 2013

A Flight Plan for Helicopter Parents - Red Line Lowering

In my first post on this topic, I shared about the opportunity I had to engage Dr. Joanne Deak, a leading expert on the adolescent brain.

In her session on "Understanding the Adolescent Brain," she opened by saying point blank: "You are going against neurobiology. The adolescent brain is not equipped to handle the stresses and strains that 17-18 years old are put under, especially when it comes to the college process."

Like I mentioned in the first post, Dr.Deak explained how the Corpus collosum is under massive construction during the teenage years. Dr. Deaks compared the Corpus collosum to a 10-lane highway, like I-5 in LA. In order for teens to be able to think, organize, judge, and make morally sound, non-destructive decisions, "all lanes" on the Cc have to be open. What often happens though is that stress causes the Amygdala (feeling center) to swell, which then triggers a suppression of the Prefrontal cortex, which then causes the "highway to shut down."  What ensues is a series of emotional, academic, and volitional "crashes."

So what the new brain research shows is that adolescence is the worst time for organization

Many times kids are just trying to get from A to B, let alone trying to navigate the labyrinthine realities of college admission.   

This then is why one of the primary tasks of the helicopter parent involves lowering the red line.

Here then are five "red line lowering" strategies.

"College Talk":  It starts with how much time you spend talking about college, and what kind of tone you take when you do talk with your kids about college.

My parents did a very helpful thing in my junior and senior year.   They put limits on "college talk" within our home.  

In fact, we only broached the topic once a month.  

Once a month at lunch at our favorite Chinese restaurant.  

I always knew when, in other words.

The tone, moreover, was always conversational.  Warm and inviting.   

It was nice to know that college was only one piece of my life, instead of the whole pie!

Senior Year Course Selection:  My rule of thumb:  let the senior substitute out a class they DON'T want to take. 

 Still aim for 5 core course with upward traction rigor-wise in at least 4 of them.   

(*The exception to the rule are the Ivies.  Since they are often looking for a reason to not admit a student, I would be careful, since taking a "softer" course could give the Ivy school exactly what they need to put you in the defer or deny pile (did you drop below the red line?  sorry.)  I had a senior, for example, who took four of the hardest courses we offer - English IV, AP Biology, Multivariable Calculus, and AP Statistics - but added Chinese 1.  This was all a top Ivy needed - a freshman course in his senior year!)

Application Season:  Help your student think ahead and set aside a couple major blocks of time a couple weeks before application deadlines.  

It's amazing what 3-4 hours of uninterrupted blocks of time will do to help kids get stuff done.

"Decompressor Spaces":  Do things intermittently that are fun, relaxing, and stress relieving.  A movie, pedicure, massage, a round of golf, coffee, rock climbing, paint balling - you get the idea, just to remind your kids that life is more than SAT scores, college essays, interviewing tips, and financial aid dollars. 

Application Crush:  It's hard in the new "Common Application" era to resist the impulse to send out more apps, not less.  Not to mention there are the increased financial burdens today to find the best college deals.  So ultimately we give our kids license to apply to as many schools as they want, though we counsel them to consider limiting the total number to no more than 8.   We had one senior this year apply to 20 schools - new record;  a handful applied in the teens.  Most though applied to 3 or 4 schools.  

More importantly, we talk with students about taking a balanced-approach:  1-2 "reach" schools (25% or less), 2-3 "target" schools (50-50%), and 1-2 "financial likely" schools (75% or better.

Parenting teens is hard work.

I had a veteran parent (4 teens now in college) tell another parent (first in HS):  "Raising teens is all about lowering the bar of expectation."

 Good advice.  For you to your teen.  And for you to yourself.  

You aren't going to parent this process perfectly.  

You will have your own "red line" moments.

The key is just to try and keep first things first.

Your child.

And the relationship with that child that will go on way beyond the college years.