By DR. FRED HALL, LPC
QUESTION: My child’s preferred college is a ‘party school.’ She’s a good kid, but easily influenced. Do I make her go somewhere else, or take a risk?
Thanks for the interesting question, reader. Of course the answer is not easy. I would say, “Yes and no.” I think it depends on your daughter. You know her and how she is psychologically, spiritually, physically and interpersonally made up. Could she handle a party atmosphere and come out unscathed? Could she go to a predominantly Christian college and find a party or unhealthy environment anyway? Both are possible. The key is to know, understand, and guide your daughter.
Know your child. Does she listen and follow your expectations and have a spirit of gentleness, or is she a risk taker, boundary breaker or free spirit? If the latter, you caution and warn against the dangers of being spiritually or relationally inflammatory. If she is mostly compliant, then trust that you’ve done the hard work of parenting good enough. Trust God with the rest.
Distractions vs. focus: Can your teen daughter self-manage and self-regulate her emotions and time? The answer stems from her ability (real or perceived) to focus, stay focused, or get distracted. Is she a serious student or easily persuaded? Work with her on focus and self-management.
This brings up the idea of your student establishing autonomy from you and her family of origin. This is a milestone in her life, and she wants to make her own way. Give her the tools she needs to establish “inter-dependence” with you, her family, and her new environment. She is right at the beginning of “adulting” — doing grownup things because they make sense to her. Give her the support, counsel and framework she needs to be successful.
Don’t do the work and make the decisions for her. Let her do some or all of it herself with your guidance. These are necessary mental and emotional places she must go to and become familiar with as an adult. Give her a long runway to get ready for adulthood. Again, this leans heavily on your child’s makeup. If she is easily influenced, I would caution against enrolling her at a “party school.” If you use the power of influence, then influence “up” rather than “down.” Find good friends, groups on campus, churches, and supports in the college town that could be an adjunct to your values for your child. Point her in that direction.
Lastly, establish a new level of communication with your adult child. Be supportive. Encourage her. Let her struggle with decisions. Let her feel the freedom to tell you anything, good or bad. This will help her trust you when she’s older. You’re still the parent, but the way you communicate will need to change.
Trust God with your teen. Give her your expectation. Inspect what you expect. She will thank you for it.
Dr. Fred Hall is a licensed professional counselor (LPC), supervisor, life and leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, couples, families and organizations in training, speaking, consulting and clinical practice. He does clinical work at Cornerstone Counseling in Jackson.