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Parents and the “Soft Launch” to College

Things Parents Know

Generally speaking, adolescents are shortsighted, focused on the immediate present rather than the future (that could be weeks or months away!), unwilling or unable to plan ahead, and are challenged to see the long-term consequences of their actions and choices.

The Research Says it is Normal

The maturation process – including development of the prefrontal cortex paired with hormonal changes – is influenced by a variety of external factors such as parent education, socioeconomic status, environmental conditions, and gender. Research on adolescent development points to growth in future orientation as the child progresses through adolescence. As parents, we don’t need the research to tell us about the challenges of our craft; however, it is good to know that these challenges are part of our child’s “normal” transition to emerging adulthood.

How Ready for College is Your Child?

This context is important to know as we prepare for launching the college “project”. Every child is different and possesses a different threshold of readiness and willingness to move into the future. In addition to the notion of a staged launch in which parents get a head start by developing and refreshing their knowledge of contemporary higher education, I recommend considering a soft launch for your child.

What is a “Soft Launch”?

A soft launch introduces the possibilities of the college experience to the child informally and outside of the stress of a full-blown college search. Soft launches are early in the college project and can be incorporated into family activities. These experiences create impressions and expose children to new environments and possibilities that can be harvested later in the college search process. For some, the soft launch can be a catalyst for initiating a more intentional approach to exploring next steps in their learning journey. Some ideas for a soft launch:

  • While traveling, drive through a college campus to get an impression of a college environment
  • Identify a campus landmark that would be neat to see and make that a reason to visit the campus
  • Get the activities and events calendar of a local campus, identify some events of interest to the family, and go there for a family outing. Think athletic events, theatre productions, films, lectures, cultural programs, etc.
  • Some campuses have destination dining establishments so take the family there sometime as an alternative to a local restaurant

Some rules for the soft launch:

  • Make it fun and entertaining.
  • Let your child take the lead in talking about college and help them unpack the experience in their own way.
  • Enjoy being together as a family.

These memories can be accessed and processed later as you work together more deliberately on the college search process.

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