Decisions, decisions... Sound Bites, No Sympathy and Seizing the Moment for Parents

Beginning today and throughout the next week, we'll be posting reflections, advice and practical guidance for students and parents on all things decisions -- from strategy, decision-making and coping through how to talk about your news with parents, friends and nosy neighbors. We begin with the always excellent advice of psychologist Michael Thompson, author of The Pressured Child. We have always found Thompson's wisdom and sound bites to be indispensable for both turning points and moments of truth in our family life. We asked him how he got so smart about all of this -- and believe me, he is -- he told us, "Hey, I’ve been working with teenagers for forty-four years.  Some lessons they just insist you learn." Read on to benefit from those lessons so you can support your teenager and seize the moment -- in the best possible way.


          When college acceptances or rejections arrive, the most important thing that a senior needs is a bit of psychological space.  You have to give your teenager time to let you know what he or she wants from you.  Parents need to remember that it is their child (not them) who has gotten rejected and it is their child who has to actually live out the four years of college.  Seniors often experience a rejection as the biggest, most important rejection in their lives.  For some parents that is the signal to rush in with empathy and sympathy.  That can make an eighteen-year-old feel like an eleven-year-old, or worse yet, a victim.  It might be better to express anger or a dismissive attitude towards the college that has rejected your child, something like “Well, that stupid admissions committee missed someone good.  That’s their loss.”  You can model indignation, even fury, but never pity or anxiety.  Both of those will tend to unravel your child.  Better to encourage your child to take the rejection letter outside and burn it.


            If your child has gotten accepted to several good colleges, you should celebrate her or his victory and then wait.    A very wise head of a boarding school once said to me that the only question you should ask your own almost-grown-up children (as opposed to other people’s children, where you have more latitude) is, “What are you thinking of doing?”  You don’t have to tell him or her what you are hoping she or he chooses because she or he already knows.  They know because you have been talking about colleges for months and you have long since tipped your hand.  Even if you try to hide it you have tipped your hand. Teens are insightful readers of their parents’ faces.  Every adolescent wonders whether she or he is going to be truly independent, and this is a moment of meaningful independence.  The message you want to send is, “This is your life, whatever college you choose, you are going to have to live with that decision.”  If you convey that attitude, I believe that your senior is more likely to ask, “What do you think, mom and dad?”   And that’s your moment.


Michael Thompson is a psychologist, school consultant and the author or coauthor of nine books including the New York Times bestseller “Raising Cain” and “The Pressured Child: Freeing Our Kids from Performance Overdrive and Helping Them Find Success in School and Life.”  He is the supervising psychologist at the Belmont Hill School, an all-boys independent school outsideBoston and he has worked with students, teachers and parents in over seven hundred schools around the world.




Good stuff. Sound advice. Add a pint of Forbidden Chocolate ice cream to the mix, and you've got it made it the shade! :-) [Now, if I could only get that CAPTCHA Code right! &^%$#@!]

Ummm, Seth... Have you check out Ben & Jerry's Salted Caramel Core Ice Cream? Ha! It will make you forget that darn CAPTCHA code!

Excellent advice for parents. Too often we want to swoop in and make it all better. Our kids to need to feel the weight of both success and failure in order to grow into independent, resilient adults. We'll definitely share this with our KnowsyMoms readers at

Thanks KnowsyMoms! As a parent, I always appreciated this kind of advice. Because, as someone once said to me, "all parents are amateurs." I never would have thought empathy was the wrong move here but saw it as true immediately when Thompson explained the appropriate response! Christine VanDeVelde

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