This One is For Parents

To my way of thinking, if you work with students, you are also going to be working with parents. Fortunately, I have been very fortunate on both ends. Parents and I generally regard each other as allies. They respect the boundaries I set, which mostly have to do with respecting a student’s privacy around a piece of writing, and they often help keep the student on track. Not infrequently, a good essay idea can also spring from a parent, who might happen to mention something to me about a child that is very worthwhile and relevant. And then there are those times when parents will question our product because they feel that something is missing. They may feel that some aspect of their child has gone overlooked, and, at such times, I listen carefully and may even agree that the parent is right, which means we’ll go back to the drawing board. Of course, on occasion, I may have to deal with a parent who is a bit overwrought about the whole admissions process, but that’s understandable too. The admissions process is stressful, and I like to feel that I can alleviate some of that stress in such situations and help the parent keep everything in perspective.

So what can a parent do to help with the writing of the personal statement? Let me mention four good places to start:

  1. Help your child get organized. The essay requirements around college applications, which include not only the Common App essay but also supplementals, can be overwhelming. Parents should try not to get into conflicts with their kids around all of this, but, instead, should see themselves as facilitators who can keep their children on task.
  2. Provide creature comforts. Everything goes better with food, and that includes writing. Carrots and celery sticks, peanut butter on rice crackers–children need the foods from their childhood, because there is going to be a lot of regression. A blanket on a cold day, a fan on a hot day–that sort of thing.
  3. Offer positive reinforcement. If your son or daughter shows you a draft (which I hope they won’t do, but, rather, will wait till they’re finished), find something good to say about it.This is the time for positives, not negatives.
  4. Try not to offer advice about things you don’t know about. Please don’t tell your child that he or she can’t write about grandparents, pets, sports injuries, or any of the stuff that somebody might have told you is off limits. Nothing is off limits. There are no new stories. There are only new and interesting ways to tell them and that is your child’s task–-to find a new and interesting way to tell a story. My younger son wrote about running over his dog–and he got into Oberlin College, his first choice school.

Well, that’s probably enough for today. And good luck. Parenting is not an easy job, but somebody’s got to do it.