On one of the first fall days of September, Michelle and Rebecca were invited to speak to the Colorado Consultants Association to answer that vexing and nagging query: is my teenager ready for college?
Utilizing their extensive experience and professional backgrounds, they addressed the various social-emotional needs, learning difficulties, and even current cultural challenges that converge during the high school years. These issues become particularly concerning as adolescents approach the college application process.
Drawing on Rebecca’s experience as a college counselor and Michelle’s as a former school psychologist, they discussed profiles of students they have advised who have tried college and failed. Common challenges seem to center around anxiety and depression, as well as difficulties with time management, organizing personal lives, and study skills. Students start to fall behind and the more behind they get in their classes, the more they spiral down. Still others have social difficulties or may struggle with learning issues that make accessing the college curriculum difficult without academic support.
Becky and Michelle asked their college-consulting colleagues: how can we better help students be during the college application process? Can red flags be identified before the student is in a major crisis? Once concerns are identified, how should professionals approach difficult conversations with families and students?
Perhaps the best skills a consultant, and a parent, can hone are those of observation and inquiry. One consultant asked what she should do about a student who struggles with test anxiety. Michelle posits that this is an example of a single concern that can open up many conversations. Is the student just nervous because of the high stakes nature of testing or does it go deeper? Could the anxiety be born out of unnoticed difficulties processing information quickly enough to meet the testing time constraints? Similarly, does this anxiety speak to difficulties in math or reading fluency? Alternatively, what other factors might be influencing how the student views him or herself and self-imposed pressure to succeed? Other consultants in the room chimed in, nodded their heads, or quickly took notes.
Rebecca also led heated discussion around college readiness and whether or not today’s students are too stressed and over-programmed. Consultants engaged in a lively debate around the role of parents and the difference between being a supportive and a “snowplow” parent. They debated the merits of the work of Dr. Jean Twenge and Dr. Julie Lythcott-Haims.
By the end of the presentation, everyone was stimulated to think about their students as well as their own children in a new light. How can developmentally typical challenges be celebrated and encouraged? When should the adults in their lives be concerned? There are no easy answers, but one thing is clear: we need to continue to listen to our students and children and keep having conversations.