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Talking to Your Parents when it comes to College

By Risa Lewak

You need to accept certain things in life: Britney Spears is crazy, Mounds is a very underrated candy bar, and you will fight with your parents about college. In fact, if you don't get into arguments with them about college, I suggest re-examining your relationship. Because parents are more involved in their children's college application process than ever before, there's a lot more tension between children and parents over everything from where to apply to what color socks to wear to the college interview.

The best way to resolve a college-related conflict with your parents is to express how you're feeling by telling them directly. Your parents can't guess what you're thinking, it's your job to be up front and honest with them. If you find your parents tuning you out, then try to arrange some alone time with them. Whether it's going out to dinner, taking a drive, or bungee jumping; arranging some activity where you can be alone with your parent or parents is a great opportunity to convey how you feel without any distractions.

When you feel that you can't resolve a college issue with your parents, New York City-based child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Tobkes suggests bringing in a third party. Try not to bring in someone you and/or your parent knows; your weird aunt Toby may be biased. School psychologists or social workers can be very helpful in resolving a conflict, providing he/she can serve as an impartial observer. In cases where you feel that you're coming up against a brick wall, family therapy may be a good solution.

If you find that you're just not getting through to your parents, Dr. Tobkes suggests taking a step back to see if there's a pattern. Has your dad always tried to control how you do things? Does your mom experience your successes and failures as her own? If you can identify a pattern, most likely any conflict you're engaged in with your parents about college is a manifestation of that pattern. Nip it in the bud now before it gets out of hand. Once you identify a repeating pattern, alert your parents to the problem and work together to try and break the cycle. You don't want your mom to call up your mortgage broker in ten years and cry hysterically because you weren't granted a loan from the bank. And do you really want your dad to tell you what to have for breakfast when you're forty?

A private college counselor told me of a student who loved playing basketball. Her mother, however, thought it would look much better to colleges if she volunteered at a hospital instead. When the counselor asked the student why she quit basketball the student replied, "Because my mom made me."

The counselor decided to have a talk with the girl's mother.

I told her to ask her daughter if she was happy about dropping basketball.
When the mother did that, her daughter told her how much she missed playing the sport and the next day she re-joined the basketball team. Sometimes all it takes is simple communication. Be clear with your parents, respect their input, but don't be afraid to stand up for yourself. If all else fails, here are a few tips to get your parents to back off the whole college thing:
  • 1) Tell them that instead of going to college, you're going to join the circus as a sad clown.
  • 2) Inform them that high school graduates are the highest paid employees on the paper route.
  • 3) Right before they go to bed, ask your parents if they've drawn up a will and laugh in a particularly creepy way.
  • 4) Wear a
  • College Taught me about Thongs and Bongs
    tee-shirt at Thanksgiving.
  • 5) Call the alumni office of your parents first choice school and ask to contact their least successful graduate.
  • 6) Inform your parents that "college dormitory" is another name for "high probability of contracting STD's".
  • 7) Threaten to attend an all-girl's school (if you're a boy).
  • 8) Remind them that you don't need a college degree to work in a deli.
  • 9) Tell your parents how excited you are to be a transgender studies major.
  • 10) Look your parents in the eye and ask them if spending $160,000 on you is worth it.
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