By Karen Lerner, Educational Case Manager
The College Blueprint, LLC
It is that time of year again for high school and college students to flex their mature brain muscles and demonstrate how they can organize their 24 hours into segments that contain enough time for sleep, nourishment, direct school instruction, sports practice, club participation, artistic pursuits, college or transfer planning, social media time, homework, test preparation, and school projects. While these are a daunting number of items on the To-Do List, it might also be noted that organizing all these items requires the ability to prioritize, plan, execute, problem solve – all characteristics of the part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) that is responsible for Executive Functioning (EF).
Now EF skills develop over time, but the ability to delay gratification and practice self-control is usually not apparent until age 20. Making matters worse, the ability to set goals, problem solve, and think realistically about the future often appears around age 28. So what is wrong with this picture? Students are expected to have skills at ages where developmentally they are not present – and we wonder why so many emerging college students feel ill-prepared, need to be managed, or require “copter parenting” to propel them to the next phase of higher education.
What to do? In my work with high school and college students, I find that there are a few tricks to working with students so that they can feel supported, while guiding them towards independence and autonomy:
The support person for this student can be a parent, a tutor, a counselor or an educational case manager. It is important to remember again that students in high school and college are expected to possess EF skills that they developmentally might not yet have. Consequently, I think of this as lending a student my frontal lobe! So if the parent feels that the process of being the support person is triggering their parental anxiety, it is best to find a way to acknowledge and manage that anxiety and out-source the support to someone else.