We have consulted the experts, asked other parents and looked at our own lives. Gathered here are “What Parents Need To Know” a selection of topics that arise in many families as they help steer their teens from high school and on through college.
Dear Readers, I am just like you—a proud, tired, and often worried parent of two kids teetering on the brink of adulthood.
My daughter just graduated from a highly selective liberal arts college. She once told me, “I am majoring in my own sanity.” And over her undergraduate years, she studied through bouts of severe anxiety, producing a thesis that earned her high honors in disability studies and her first professional job.
Eleventh grade felt like the 7th circle of Hell, a place so sinister and drained of joy that I despaired of my kids or I ever emerging from it. Although frankly, I may have felt their teen stress more acutely than they did, I worried about my boys. They are young, and while I had learned coping mechanisms for stress, they were still finding their way.
Imagine sitting in the audience at your daughter’s high school graduation, your heartbeat accelerating as the alphabetical roll call draws ever closer to your family’s last name. To her right and left you see her classmates, beaming with joyous self-confidence. Now, fast forward a few months to the fall semester of freshman year. Sadly, many of these graduating high school seniors will begin to stumble and wonder how to finish college during four years. Some will take one or two extra years to complete a degree while still others may drop out, clutching a transcript of random course credits and loan statements in place of a diploma.
“I received a call from my daughter on Saturday afternoon. One of her high school friends had suffered a rape in college in California,” a Grown and Flown reader wrote to us. “It was not a student from the campus – she was not drugged, nor was she drunk. She met for a date and was assaulted and raped. At 4 am the phone calls to all of the high school friends began. The girls are at colleges all over the country. These are smart, good girls. They all discussed what to do. The girl was worried about telling her mom and dad. Finally, about 10 hours later, my daughter called me to ask what they should do. Besides being completely heartbroken, I was horrified that our girls did not know what to do if they were victims of sexual assault or rape in college. Girls and boys should know how to help someone in this situation. I realized that I had all the safety conversations with my daughter – but never this conversation.”
The teenage brain is not just an adult brain with fewer miles on it,” says Frances E. Jensen, a professor of neurology. “It’s a paradoxical time of development. These are people with very sharp brains, but they’re not quite sure what to do with them.”
Thinking back on my children, working their way through middle school, I recall changes in them that felt abrupt. One night I read Harry Potter to my son, tucked him in and kissed him goodnight. The next morning, in walked a stranger, a lanky imposter rubbing his eyes, sullen when he answered my questions, if he answered them at all. The physical and behavioral changes in our teens are stunning, as hormones work their transformative magic. Yet so much of what differentiates a child from an adult is invisible to parents and teachers who daily try to make sense of this frustrating and amazing age.
Come November, the days are short, the college workload is heavy, and the end-of-semester finish line seems awfully far away. Not surprisingly, some students find themselves looking for more support than their parents or friends can provide. If your son or daughter needs to locate a therapist, these questions might arise.