Guest Expert

My Teen Is So Smart, but Is Not YET Ready For College

We all know the drill: birth, school, college, adulthood. It’s a formula that somehow became mandatory – a script that we’re expected to follow. But what if that outline isn’t quite the right fit for your child? What if your smart teen isn’t ready for college?

This week’s guest expert, Judith Bass, has a different script in mind, especially for complex kids. Even if your child is academically ready for college, it’s important to look at where he or she is “socially and emotionally.” Bass explains: “There’s a lot more to managing life than just being in the classroom."

If college is in your child’s future, it may not necessarily happen right after high school. Sometimes, a little distance can make the heart grow fonder – or at least, help your teen find a motivation to continue in formal education.

There are plenty of options to explore, like gap years or internships. According to Bass: "If there's a well laid out plan, the student will actually be MORE successful by waiting a year or two when he's more mature, ready to take on college and has a purpose." The trick is finding the best time to talk to your complex child about these options.

3 Key Times to Talk to Your Child

Elementary or Middle School

Bass recommends starting these conversations as early as you can. That way, you have plenty of time to talk about all the options. Then, your kid feels like “he or she can make the decision when the time comes by having lots of choices, not feeling like one is a ‘Plan B.’” Plus, if you “point out other examples,” your child will begin to see something like a gap year as something desirable.

Early High School

In 9th or 10th grade, you and your child are only just beginning to think of life after high school. It’s the perfect time to have an honest conversation. Bass recommends saying: “Let’s think about what you want to do after high school. Maybe you might benefit from a year away from academics to learn and develop your Executive Functioning skills to be more prepared to go to college.” Your child might be ready when graduation rolls around, but it can’t hurt to set the stage for other possibilities.

Later High School

When you’re in the thick of looking at colleges, it can be hard to consider alternatives. But if things are not going well, you can be transparent about it. Bass suggests saying something like, "I think we should look at gap year programs… because you’re struggling right now, and we don’t want you to continue to struggle.” After high school programs can be the perfect supportive place for your teen to be responsible and independent. “Being away from parents is sometimes the only way to break the cycle of dependence.” Besides, as Bass puts it: “College will always be there…”

For more details, listen to this captivating interview about what to do when your smart teen isn’t ready for college.


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