Developing a New Kind of Relationship with Your College-Bound Teen

Educational psychologist Jane McClure joins us this month to recommend a book that will arm you with advice about getting the best possible results when communicating with your college-bound teenager. Think of it this way: We all want to continueto be part of our children's lives and the problem-solving that continues through college and beyond. Read on to find out more about how to make sure that happens and what to do when it does…


A few years ago, I read a wonderful book titled, Don’t Tell Me What to Do, Just Send Moneyby Helen E. Johnson and Christine Schelhas-Miller.  It is filled with so much wisdom and useful advice, I find myself re-reading sections from time to time, whenever thorny issues between students and parents arise and I’m trying to figure out how to advise them.  I highly recommend it to any parent whose son or daughter is about to go off to college.  You will love the humorous anecdotes which will make you laugh but at the same time teach you a new style of communication that will be incredibly helpful as you form a new kind of relationship.  Here are a few of the key concepts presented in the book.


When kids go to college, parents need to begin the slow process of letting go.  You have undoubtedly heard this before, but it’s not so easy to do and it doesn’t happen overnight.  The authors of this book suggest that parents “shift to a mentoring style of parenting.”  In order for a mentor to be effective, he or she must communicate effectively.  Throughout the book, effective and ineffective interactions are presented, and the contrasting dialogues make it clear why this new style of communicating works.  Here is a simple example from Chapter 1.  In the first example, the parent is asking closed questions, while in the second example, the questions are open-ended.


PARENT (noticing your teen-ager is putting on his coat):  Where are you going?

CHILD:  Out.

PARENT:  When will you be back?

CHILD:  Later.


PARENT:  Tell me about your plans for tonight.

CHILD:  Well, Jason and I are going to the mall and then to a movie.

PARENT:  Can you tell me around what time you’ll be back?

CHILD:  Oh, probably around midnight.


The next time you have a conversation with your child that seems to go nowhere and you realize you are getting nothing but monosyllabic responses and learning nothing, replay your questions in your head and ask yourself whether they are closed or open-ended. 


It is to be expected that when your child goes to college, there will be the occasional crisis that arises, and you will want to help them get through it.  You will want to provide appropriate guidance that will empower them and move them toward making good decisions.  You will want to have meaningful conversations with your child so that if they have made a mistake and gotten themselves into a difficult situation, you can help them reflect on their experiences and ultimately come up with their own solutions to problems. 


Every imaginable crisis is discussed in this book, whether it be academic probation, social adjustment, drug and alcohol abuse, changing majors, financial struggles, or psychological/emotional problems.  Boxes provide insight about "What’s on Your Mind" and "What’s on Your Child’s Mind" as well as "What to Do" and "What to Avoid".  These authors know what they are talking about because they wrote the book based on twenty plus years of experience working with students at Cornell University.  Every example has the ring of truth and every suggestion is based on their underlying philosophy; i.e., developing the skills and behaviors which will lead to an adult-to-adult relationship and will serve you well in the years to come.


Jane McClure is a Licensed Educational Psychologist (LEP 1605) and educational consultant whose work has focused on college counseling and psychoeducational evaluations.  McClure was a partner at San Francisco’s McClure, Mallory, Baron & Ross for more than 20 years. Previously named Educational Psychologist of the Year by the California Association of Licensed Educational Psychologists, McClure recently received the WACAC Service Award from the Western Association of College Admission Counseling. For the College Board, she has presented workshops for guidance counselors related to counseling college-bound students who have learning disabilities and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and worked as a consultant on issues related to services for students with disabilities.

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