My Women’s and Gender Studies class is about girlhood. We talk about the importance of empowering girls, rather than painting them as romanticized victims as Dr. Mary Pipher does in her book titled “Reviving Ophelia,” about the effects societal pressures have on girls. One of Dr. Pipher’s patients lamented, looking back on her experience of adolescence: “Everything good in me died in junior high.” Terribly dramatic, but that sentiment can speak to a lot of people and not just pre-teen girls. We all went through (or are still going through) teenage angst, the time we simultaneously slammed doors in our parents faces and felt like dying when they forgot to charge the video camera to record our flute solos during a band concert junior year. (Evidently, I was no exception to this contradictory stage of life.)
The college admissions process is daunting. I don’t know a single person who even tried to go at it alone. We all needed help, and ideally the best source of help in most high schoolers’ arsenals is your parents. They are embarrassing, prying, and infuriating, but they also probably have decades more financial and institutional knowledge than you. Whereas you may have succeeded in working retail during the summer to buy a used car, your parents have done that, made it through college themselves, established careers, birthed and raised you, put you through an entire school system, provided you with insurance, and are currently struggling to get you to say hello when you walk through the door after school.
I am obviously exaggerating the parent-teenager power struggle. But my point is that it’s time to stop that struggle. You and your parents need each other. You want to go to college and they want to help you go to college. It’s time to start a relationship of cooperation, if not for the sake of your family, then for the sake of your future. The first step is to accept your parents. Truly, they just want the best for you. Take the time to understand things from their point of view.
The second step is to decide to change the relationship, no matter what stage of high school you’re in. The college stage is one of the biggest you’ll have to go through, and you need the emotional and financial support that only comes easy with cooperation to even think about getting there. Keep reminding yourself to improve even the smallest aspects of your relationship. Say hello when you walk into the room. Offer to help out with a chore you don’t normally do. These are simple things that parents often miss out on once all the good in their children “dies” in junior high. They’ll notice and appreciate the effort.
Next, admit your weakness and need for help. Nobody enjoys admitting vulnerability, especially a tortured and misunderstood teenage soul. But it’s respectable and necessary to reveal to your parents that you need help. It doesn’t need to be a dramatic plea, but just a simple: “I’m a bit lost on where to go next with my applications. Can you take a look at some things?” This shows that you recognize the need for cooperation with your parents and are mature enough to ask for it directly. An interaction like this opens up the conversation not only for college, but for the new relationship. You are confiding in your parents a dependence and a new-found trust as their child that you may have lost (or refused to accept) during the angst phase.
Finally, go through with the admissions process and the entirety of college, carrying with yourself the reminder that you asked for help and it was gladly given. Use that comfort as motivation to make both your own and your parents’ financial, emotional, and mental effort worth it. You did not make the mature decision to open up to your parents just to flunk out freshman year. Every day I spend pouring over readings and assignments is propelled by the motivation to pay back my parents for helping me reach this stage of life.
This rebuilding of a relationship isn’t just to get an acceptance letter, a degree, or even a job. This experience can be the point in your life at which you start actually understanding what it means to grow up. Your parents put you into this world, and they may not actually be able to take you out of it, but cherishing the meaning of a cooperative relationship can help you make sure you’re both proud that they put you in it.