Hear that cracking sound? It could be spring bursting into bloom. Or it could be the sound of millions of high school senior hearts breaking over college rejection letters.
If your kid is one of them, here's how it feels: Their future? Shaken and blank. All that misery and sweat invested in the school grind? Wasted. The answer to their innermost question, "Am I worthy?" Delivered in that skinny envelope -- a thunderous "No."
Now parents, you're up. You've got before you one of the most powerful teachable moments ever. And even if you think your teen would rather skin themselves alive than have this conversation with you, just know that you are singularly qualified to help them grieve, reframe and move forward.
Here's how to do it:
Meet them fully in their private hell. Fight the impulse to gloss over or short-circuit their grief. Skip the: "You'll be fine" or "It's their loss." The key to getting over this is dealing with it, not denying or explaining it away. Remember, our kids have been raised on the notion that their entire lives so far have led to this. Help them identify their worst fears and fantasies about what they think this rejection means to their future. Then give them the comfort of knowing that you truly understand and feel their pain.
Tell the truth about your own hardest failures. As parents, our most profound moments of self-doubt and rejection are valuable currency to our kids. Sharing honestly connects us to them on an adult level and will help them normalize this fork in the road. Didn't make honors when all your friends did? Passed over for a promotion you were in line for at work? Got rejected from your top college choice? Our kids need to know that we know -- and have survived -- how lousy and afraid they feel right now. Our skeletons in the closet are the ticket.
Help them see the "Appearance vs. Reality" of this moment. Remember, this is the generation of kids that has been awarded trophies just for showing up to practice. For many of them, rejection this authoritative is staggering. It's not just their future that feels at stake, it's their identity. Create some context for them: This is not the foreshadowing of a new, failing trajectory. This is one answer coming from a very imperfect admissions process run by a stressed-out room of directors trying to figure out how to make objective choices out of impossibly subjective information.
Shed light on the link between college and success. A 2014 Gallup poll found that when it comes to hiring, a mere 9 percent of U.S. business leaders ranked where a candidate went to college as "very important." What does matter most to 84 percent of top employers? Knowledge and applied skills in the field. Then there's the question of knowing how to create a fulfilling life. As we adults know, everyone's got to crack that code for themselves, and one's alma mater is a small piece of the equation. Where you go to school isn't nearly as important as what you make of where you go.
Help them see that a life story is never revealed in the moment. We live our lives in chapters whose bigger picture is revealed only over time. I always thought that I was born to go to Brown University. I knew it from the age of 12. It was my singular, youthful ambition. And yet, I was rejected while my two best friends got in. Devastated doesn't begin to describe what I felt. Reflecting back, I can see that the most joyous, important things in my life today -- my husband, kids and community -- would not have come about if I had gotten in to Brown. All roads lead to where you are. There's no telling what good may come from that skinny envelope.
Reassure them that their hard work has not been wasted. New research shows that the true predictors for a successful life are resilience, flexibility and persistence. All three are learned through failure, not success. Mention this now and they might kill you. But in a few weeks, without a word, email them this: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/18/the-9-essential-qualitie_n_4760403.html?utm_hp_ref=email_share
Show them the road ahead. Reframed with the right perspective, this rejection is a pointer towards their next step. After coming to terms with the hand they've been dealt, your teen's job is to get excited about diving into the myriad of options they do have. The trick is to help them see the truth: They are in control. This is their life -- their move. The world is just as huge, wide open and waiting for them as it always was. And they've still got everything they need to end up right where they're meant to be.