My 10th grade son took practice PSATs this past fall. He tanked. Not surprising, and not terribly worrying – the whole idea of allowing 10th graders to take them is to give them a feel for what these anxiety-provoking, awful, standardized tests are going to look like for him over the next few years.
My guess is that with a little luck and a whole lot of Stanley Kaplan, he'll probably be able to tame the beast and do alright.
However, the most remarkable outcome of having signed his name to the PSAT form is that since about January 15, not a day has gone by where he hasn't received either an email or a snail mail package from a college, touting its wares and convincing him that its pristine campus is the place for him. One college even called and asked if he knew what his major was going to be.
Based on a few of these enticements, he actually has already decided where he wants to go, and has been investigating both the grades needed and whether there is a campus Hillel (Jewish group.). I don't know whether to cry tears of joy or sadness.
The very fact that there is a goal now in place, whether or not it winds up being the final goal, has been enough to motivate him and make us cheer. In addition to the developmental button going off at the beginning of the school year, when he looked up after 3+ years of adolescent slacker morass and said to himself, "Oh yeah, I guess I better start doing my schoolwork," the realization that college is a mere 2.5 years away began to hit home.
I understand that in his hyper-competitive school environment not a day has gone by since the day he started where they haven't force-fed "college" to the college-track kids (which are probably 85-90% of the school.) And perhaps he's been listening a bit to this drumbeat.
There is a part of me that really, truly believes we shouldn’t even be talking about college until a kid is in 11th grade. Let them wade through the shoals of early adolescence without worrying about the future. It's hard enough without the college boards hanging over your head from the day you enter middle school. But there are things like grades to consider.
Interestingly, though, for my son, it's more than the external stimuli that are now reaching his developing neurons.
He himself is changing. As he moves, lankily and steadily, through adolescence, he has become a person who is quite sure of who he is and what he needs to do. Now, I could probably make the argument that he has always been that person underneath. This is the kid who didn't nurse until he was five weeks old and ready, who didn't talk until he was two and ready, who didn't want to play soccer until he was eight and ready, and who wouldn't ever, ever, ever do his homework, or anything else, under duress. Everything has always – always – been on his own timeline.
Quite the parenting challenge.
Two years ago, we decided that the only way to "parent" him through his teenage years was to essentially allow him to make his own decisions about nearly everything. We would provide input and support, but we let him free. He has been free to decide when (and whether) to do his homework. He has been free to decide when to stop fooling around on the Wii and Facebook and the computer (with a final 10:00 pm ending point.) He has been free to make decisions about his social plans, his summer plans, and what paid work he is going to take on.
It has been an excruciating process for me. But it's working.
My son is now standing a little taller, and feeling pride in the responsibility he takes in the world. He seems to be the center of his small but growing social crowd, often being the central planner and organizer. He has two jobs this school year, and has just made the very difficult decision to pass up a trip to Israel this summer in order to be closer to home and his friends and to work and earn money. He has been working hard in school, often missing lunch to go in and work with the teacher to really understand chemistry so that he can pull his grade up. He puts his own orthodontist appointments in his phone calendar, and keeps track of when he needs to go.
In short, he is becoming a responsible young adult, right on schedule.
So the barrage of college material is hitting us at an interesting time. We are having conversations with our teen about what the next two years are going to look like, about the traveling we may do to help him make his decision about where he will spend his college years. The next conversation we need to have is one about finances, and we'll have to gird up for that one – it will be big. But I think we're all ready for it.
Much like when we had a brand new, gorgeous baby, and we didn't have a clue what to do with him or for him, and just as I was getting the hang of feeding him I would get all worried about the next thing, like baby proofing the house (which wouldn't be needed until he was 17 months old, because, like everything else, he only walked when he was ready), I know now that these conversations will come when he and we are developmentally ready.
(Deep sigh.) The college countdown has begun. Let the final loop around the track commence.
Photo by smemon87 via Flickr