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Understanding Your Teen's Journey: From one parent to another

Well, it happened. Yesterday, our oldest son turned 17 and officially, I am struggling with all this growing up. He is taller than I am. (Thom would likely add that since I am 5’3” tall, most people are taller than me, but still…) I have no idea how 17 years have passed – not just passed, but flown by.

With two parents who love and work in higher education, our son has grown up surrounded by college life. He has always known about colleges and university life. He was serenaded by the Purduettes with the song, “Baby Mine” and it will always be a song he remembers as a special lullaby. (I was a mentor for the ensemble.) When he was an infant and toddler, he was a subject at the speech and language learning labs at Purdue and Vanderbilt Universities. He received special books as a token of appreciation for his time and contributing to research; I have saved these books all these years later. His babysitters weren’t just average college students - they were student leaders (I worked in student activities and leadership). He was a VIP at student leadership events. He was passed around more student events than a hot potato or program. I was a faculty fellow at a residence hall and would bring him in his stroller to enjoy weekly dinners with students. He “attended” his first national college fair in Chicago in October 2006. I presented at the 2006 Mortar Board National Conference and of course, he tagged along. I didn’t list him as a co-presenter but he was there, at seven months old. My dad was vice president at the University of Saint Francis - Fort Wayne so he was passed around and a mini-celebrity there too.

Andrew attending his first college fair at the Chicago National College Fair, October 2006.

College has always been part of his upbringing.

Andrew (shown here NOT 17 years old) had plenty of college apparel to choose from as a baby.

So now, we fast forward several years and here we are, the parents of a high school junior; he is looking at and exploring colleges.

And wow, now we have come full circle. Working in student affairs, I have engaged with parents many times over the years. Many years ago – well before our son was born and I was working at Purdue - an upset parent said, “You wouldn’t understand. I doubt you even have children!” And she was right, I didn’t have children at that time. But I knew she was worried about her child and cared. We can all have empathy. While I thought I was being empathetic and supportive at the time, since being a mother, I have thought back to that conversation many times over the years. I would not have responded differently nor would my advice and next steps have changed, but I think I better understand her angst and emotion.

Being a parent changes everything.

For the better most definitely. We often laugh at how “dull” our lives were in the B.C. life (before children). But the worries also come. How can I support my child? How can I help them grow and take responsibility and ownership for their learning and actions? How can I teach them to solve problems on their own? When do I “jump in” and advocate? How do I support and foster a love of lifelong learning and knowledge when I see a not-so-great grade on a test? How do I encourage them to take courses that interest and challenge them, but that may not be an “easy A”?

I come back to what I know. What I can teach. What I can demonstrate.

It’s about the student. Not the college. It’s our mantra.

It’s about people who “get” our student. Who appreciate him, with all his quirks and qualities.

It’s unlikely that our son will attend any of our alma maters and that is MORE than okay. He is interested in marine biology. His journey is not only different from our journey; it is NOT OUR JOURNEY. It is his. We are here to teach him the tools - to ask good questions, seek new information, and keep learning.

Not working with us yet? Feeling stressed by the college search process? Let's chat.

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