A word of advice for parents of kids in the throes of the college-admissions process: Back off. Resist that temptation to nag your foot-dragging child to write that college essay...

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A word of advice for parents of kids in the throes of the college-admissions process: Back off.


Resist that temptation to nag your foot-dragging child to write that college essay or fill out those applications.


“If you hound kids, they’ll perform worse instead of better,” says Laura Kastner, clinical associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington and co-author with Jennifer Wyatt of “The Launching Years: Strategies for Parenting from Senior Year to College Life” (Three Rivers Press, $13). “They’ll put their energy into resisting your hounding instead of meeting their deadlines.”


For parents wanting to be helpful but not overinvolved, Kastner offers this advice:


• Expect foot-dragging. “Every single kid I know procrastinates during the application process — even nonprocrastinators,” Kastner says. “Up to now, their whole life has been living at home with their parents, and now they’re moving on to the next port — which is completely determined by this application. The task feels momentous. They see it determining their entire destiny.”


• Step back. As a general rule, the more responsibility you take for the application, the less responsibility your child will take. “It’s the kids’ job to fill out forms,” Kastner says. “It’s the parents’ job to support that process.” Among other things, parents can supply family-income info for financial forms and chauffeur service to the local copy mart and post office.


For Parents


“The Launching Years: Strategies for Parenting from Senior Year to College Life,” by Laura S. Kastner and Jennifer Wyatt, Three Rivers Press, 2002, $13. Practical parenting advice on managing your teens’ bouts of senioritis and your own fears of separation.


“Panicked Parents’ Guide to College Admissions,” by Sally Rubenstone and Sidonia Dalby, Thomson Corp and Peterson’s, 2002, $14.95.


Tackles questions not often covered elsewhere: How involved should parents be in the college-selection process? Who are independent counselors and how do you know if you need one? The authors draw on interviews with deans of admissions and other experts.


“When Your Kid Goes to College: A Parents’ Survival Guide,” by Carol Barkin, Avon, 1999, $12. In her son’s senior year, the author met informally with other parents, comparing notes on emotional issues (How do you weather kids’ pre-college emotional storms?) and more practical matters (Do you send a kid off to college with a car?) This book reads like a carry-over of those friendly chats, full of parents’ voices and helpful hints.


• Bring in a third party. Most kids balk when it comes to writing application essays — setting off panic in their parents and leading to heated battles. (“Why are you watching TV when you should be writing?!?”) To avoid this, Kastner recommends engaging a college counselor or family friend to set deadlines and read over kids’ essays: “Children will not fail their obligation to a favorite aunt or neighbor, but they will fail their obligation to a parent.”


• Be compassionate if rejection letters arrive. “If you say, ‘Yes, but that’s only one college; you have three more to hear from,’ that invalidates your child’s awful feelings of loss,” Kastner says. “I’d recommend saying instead, ‘I know this is hard. I’m so sorry you have to go through it.’ You could also make your child’s favorite dinner that night or bring in a good video.”