When to push, and when to shove

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Just let me deal with it. It’s my life and my choice.” My 17-year-old daughter pointedly jabs these words at me, often in relation to my telling her that she has to work on her college applications.

On the face, her sentiment seems rational enough, but I’ve learned never to trust the apparent sanity of anything that comes out of a teenager’s mouth.

I understand her desire to be in control of her future and the college process is certainly the place for this. Shouldn’t she be the one to chose where she goes? In college she will choose her major, her first job, take the biggest steps into her future. Shouldn’t she be in control of the process and invest herself in the outcome?

Yes… but. Nothing is simple in adolescence. Faced with either going out with friends or writing another application essay, she might pick spending time with her crew. In her mind, the consequence is not getting that early application in to her first-choice school, but there is still regular admissions and there are other schools she’d be happy to go to, so no biggie.

That she exists in the moment is both the beauty and danger of her teenage mind. My girl lives fully. Happy or sad, she feels deeply, and also bounces back quickly, sloughing off a bad test or lost volleyball game and throwing herself into the next moment. However, understanding the consequences of decisions in a time frame extending beyond today is not her strong suit.

That seems to be my job, anticipating the long-term impact of her decisions and trying to help her see, understand and feel them. Failing that, I enforce some sort of reality check. Occasionally, this includes ratcheting up the pressure, like making her stay home and get those essays done instead of going out with friends.

Submitting college applications through Early Decision or Early Admission programs can be a big advantage, sometimes making the difference between getting in and being rejected as a regular applicant. My girl says I only care about her getting into the best school she can. What I’m really thinking is that I want her to go somewhere that will offer her the most opportunities for her future, preparing her for whatever she decides to do.

I could just let her “handle” it. The applications might be done on time or they might not and, either way, she certainly would face the consequences. It is one thing to let her screw up a single English paper or miss a softball game, but quite another to let her throw away opportunities that could impact the rest of her life.

In the end, I’m trying to make sure she doesn’t throw away chances because she can’t appreciate their potential importance. Some day soon it will all be up to her to deal with.

I’m just making sure she has choices when she reaches that day.

Read The Dad every other Thursday on
Posted 12:00 am, October 29, 2015
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