My 17-year-old son may not be aware of it yet, but heís
heading off to college in the Fall. The only question still unanswered is
exactly which school heíll be attending.
Itís a huge decision. His entire future may depend on making
the right choice. The next four years could determine the rest of his life.
Heíll create lifelong friends and everlasting memories.
With that in mind, we have had discussions long into the night
about this critical choice. They go something like this:
Me: What about University of San Diego?
Him: Itís okay.
Me: What about UC Santa Barbara?
Him: Itís okay.
Me: What about Colorado?
Him: Itís okay.
After three or four minutes of going through the list, we
call it a night. Weíre both exhausted from the strain of this huge
decision. Itís clear that one of us is going to have to step up and make a
choice. And like most well-adjusted American teenage boys, it probably wonít
I wasnít any different when I was his age. I had no
clue where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. But while kids havenít
changed all that much, parents certainly have.
When I was in my senior year in high school, the college
decision was entirely left up to me. The only discussion of college was
around the dinner table, and it usually consisted of a discussion of grades
and then a rendition of the family theme song when a poor grade from me
and/or one of my sisters was announced.
Mickey Mouse was still pretty popular in those days, so
my parents used the tune to his song, but changed the words.
"S-I-T-T-E-YÖ..K-O-L-I-J. Whatís that spell? City CollegeÖCity
The point was made. Get into a four-year college---somewhere.
They didnít care whereóthat was my decision. So I applied to Stanford.
My rejection letter came back, I think, the next day. I
didnít know the Postal Service could work that fast. So I applied to Cal,
which didnít have quite the requirements it has today, and was
I didnít look at any other schools, never went on a tour, and
never really discussed college with anyone. A couple of my friends were
going to Cal, so I did, too. That was it.
What a difference a generation makes. This is the age of the
"helicopter parent," hovering over every detail of their childrenís
lives. The kid gets attention, whether asked for or not.
The end result is probably the same. How a kid ultimately
turns out is up to the kid. Itís like breast-feeding. Some babies are
weaned at two months, some at six months, and some when they look up at
their mother and announce "other side."
And some arenít breast-fed at all. The same with
teenagers. Some are weaned and become independent of their parents earlier
than others. Others have no choice but to rely on their helicopter parents
to steer them through adolescence, like it or not.
But they all break away at some point. For my son, that time
will come, just not yet. Heís got all his college applications in, thanks
to the persistence of his mother (Iím the helicopter parent of
sports---she handles the academics) and has already been accepted at four
schools and is waiting to hear from six more.
When all the acceptances and rejections are in, heíll
go visit the schools that accepted him for a second time. Not because he
wants to, but because weíll drag him there. Thatís what helicopter
Then heíll make an informed, rational, mature decision.
It will go something like this.
Me: What about UC Santa Cruz?
Him: Girls are weak.
Me: What about University of Oregon?
Him: Too far.
Me: What about UC Davis?
Him: No beach.
Thatís about the time our little helicopter
will re-start its engine and steer him towards a college that we think, in
our infinite wisdom, will be perfect for him.
My parents certainly didnít do that for me. But I
survived their indifference, and Iím sure my son will survive our
interference. Both ways can work fairly well.
If not, thereís always S-I-T-T-E-YÖ..K-O-L-I-J.