“Transition Fever” Peaks in Winter for Parents and Teens

Parenting college-bound teenagers from senior year on while dealing with changes in marital, personal and family life.

April isn’t the cruelest month – it’s January, deadline time for college applications. While college transition fever first strikes  between junior SAT’s  and senior September, it peaks once the bids for admission are  in the mail.   Suddenly the realization that a big change is coming  hits both generations.   “Senioritis” replaces the flu as winter’s main teenage malady. Kids space out or ignore their homework assignments, term papers and  exams;  even if their grades don’t slide, their attitude often changes in a nanosecond from cool, distant and disaffected  to demanding, dependent,  or defiant. And parents, especially if they’ve been intensely involved in (or afflicted by) the application process, are wondering who  these strangers are  and what happened to the almost-adults their kids  were just beginning to become.

What’s a parent to do? Here’s a strategy  from “Ready to Launch: Parenting Through the College Transition,” a new on-line program I created for www.pricelessparenting:  Tighten Up While Loosening Up.  Tightening up means  being vigilant about  their academics and letting them know you mean it. Post   a January-June calendar in plain sight and circle all  deadlines  for  papers, reports, midterms and finals  as well as senior activities like proms, picnics, class trips and graduation parties. Tie their academic performance to giving permission and/or money for those activities. Remind them that colleges will get their final grades and  even (mis)conduct reports, which might jeopardize their enrollment even if they’ve been accepted or influence what  courses they’re allowed to take when they get there.

Loosening up means  putting them in charge of themselves – allowing them more personal freedom and autonomy in other aspects of  their lives.  If you haven’t yet left them at home alone for more than an evening,  take yourself  somewhere else for a few days and see how they manage. Let them set their own curfews and alarm clocks and handle their own money, whether you provide an allowance or they earn it. Allow them to manage their own time, relationships, and social life. Invite them to participate in family activities; don’t  include them without their consent (which means that they, not you, get to tell Grandma they’re not coming to her birthday party.)  Ask, don’t tell, especially when it comes to giving advice; before offering it,request  their permission,  which may feel strange the first time they say No, thanks  and you have to manually put your lips together to keep from giving it anyway.  Let them make their own mistakes  (they will anyway) because that’s the only way they’ll know better next time.

Meanwhile, what can you do to ease your own symptoms of transition fever,  like Future Nostalgia? That’s  that achy sense that all this will soon be over, and while in some ways you can’t wait, in others you’d just like to freeze this moment in time.   Well, maybe not this one,  when they’re shutting you out with a teenager’s withering coolness; instead, focus  but one  you can remember as if it happened yesterday ( which it probably did). Concentrate on  that unexpected hug or thank-you, that special something   that reminds you how much you love them. And try not to think about how much you’ll miss them when they leave.

By janeellen

Jane Adams PHD Social Psychologist