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The Evolving Role of Parenting – Part TWO

By Robert A.G. LeVine

By Robert LeVine

In my last article, I provided “how to” tips for parenting of students who have not yet reached high school. Today, I’d like to offer suggestions for guiding students throughout their high school years.

The first thing to remember is that biological maturation comes in stages, and while high school starts with adolescence, it finishes in early adulthood. In other words, your child is changing, so your parenting should evolve, too.

(By the way: as a general rule, girls and boys mature differently. While girls mature in a straight line, boys mature significantly during grade 12. Be ready for different wants and needs when the ultimate college choice is made in the last two months of high school.)

Through grade 8, the parental role has been a mélange of benevolent dictator, support person and role model. In grade 9, the dictator role should continue, but only for one year. Because high school is larger, more stressful, and quite different from what came before, avoid adding more changes. Instead, guide them as much and as well as possible. However, let them know there is “light at the end of the tunnel.” Tell them that after grade 9, your respective roles will change.

Grade 10 is usually the time to shift parental responsibilities away from dictating. At this age, students start to sense that they are ready to do more for themselves, but they don’t know what to do, or how. That’s where the parental role shifts to mentoring. However, remember that your job is not to do their work, not to place flowers at their feet, and not to create their path for them. Starting in grade 10, advise and support, but do not force them or hover over them.

At the stage, many of you are probably thinking: if I don’t stay firm, they might fail, and failure could destroy their chances at a top college, successful career and great life.

Nope! The opposite is true.

Nobody is perfect. The colleges do not expect perfection. In fact, they are suspicious of supposed perfection. As one dean of admissions told me years ago: “I’m going to be intrigued by an interesting person who probably is not perfect. In fact, I’d be very skeptical of someone who tries to look perfect …. I’ve never met that person!”

Colleges actually want to see that applicants have faced great challenges, even failure. Why? Because a good college will challenge its students to do their best, and they want to know how your child will respond to challenge. Just look up the words “college admissions grit” on the internet and you will see how important this is.

As a parent, you want your child to be challenged now – while you are available to help pick them up after they fall – not later in college, when the support structure is not as personally invested in their fate.

“Failure” is actually an opportunity to learn. One of my friends, a brilliant tutor, said it quite well. “Bob, I love failure. It’s the only time when our brains automatically try to learn. We always want to know what we did wrong, how to fix it, and how to avoid problems in the future. We can’t help but learn from failure.”

Personally and professionally, I am not worried about failure. I’m focused on your child’s growth. Like a potted plant that never leaves its pot, your child cannot grow to their full potential if you do not provide a growth environment. Being a hovering, helicoptering “dragon parent” ensures a lack of growth. All they can be is an inferior example of your version of success. Let them maximize their own potential.

However, this approach requires “buy in” by your student, too. Communicate that you will give them more space, but in return they need to give you more information. Focus on improving your interactions. When responding to an issue, speak like you are talking to a close friend, not to a child. If you want them to act like an adult, treat them like an adult.

Finally, when college applications roll around, try to leave your child alone. They are already stressed and won’t respond well to your added stress. Support them, but do not control or nag them. All of our highest achieving students have the same recommendation for parents: “Leave us alone!”

Let’s not fight with our kids. Instead, let’s allow them to grow by nurturing them and training them, not as dictators, but as role models and supporters.

Robert LeVine is the founder and CEO of University Consultants of America, an independent educational consultancy assisting students around the world with applications to colleges, universities and graduate schools. For more information, call University Consultants of America, Inc. at 1-800-465-5890 or visit

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