Happiness before what 'looks best'

He trains in the pool at the break of dawn and again at sunset. But he barely gets off the bench during matches every weekend. He has little chance of getting recruited to play in college (not like he wants to play at that level, anyway) and his grades are suffering due to the pure exhaustion he feels getting home past 9 on school nights.

She stares at a blank canvas searching for inspiration. Painting is all she's known since age 9. Giving it up now seems pointless because she has no idea what else she's good at. All her life, she's been labeled an artist. What would define her now?

He stays up late into the evening, completing lab reports, memorizing formulas and flipping through flashcards for a physics class he knows he will never put to good use in the real world.

As a parent, it's hard to swallow. You've spent thousands of dollars on coaches, enrichment classes and tutoring. Your kid has stayed the course and put his head down, trudging day in and day out, doing what he feels you want him to do, or what someone is telling him to continue to do.

He goes through the motions, but it's obvious to you that he feels uninspired and has lost sight of what's really important to him, all in the name of what he's told will look "best."

Sometimes, as the parent, you are a passive observer watching the struggle and heartache, wanting to teach your child the value of sticking it out.

"My child is not a quitter," you think.

But, other times, you see such struggle that you wonder, is it worth it? Is my child happy and inspired or maybe a bit too lazy? What gives?

With respect to the impact on college admissions, how do you help your children decide between when it's time to give up or continue on with their albatross activity? When is staying the course the best plan of action? Parents, unfortunately, more often than not, the answer is not cut and dry.

I'd like to tell you not to help them make a decision based on what "looks best" to colleges. But, to be honest, I can't.

It really depends on the types of colleges to which your child plans to apply. The more selective the college — and many of our state colleges and universities are selective — the more careful the student needs to be about giving up or quitting.

While it's acceptable to allow your child to struggle, it's downright wrong to make your child stay the course when his confidence is dwindling and the stress is overwhelming and spilling into other areas of life.

Here is some advice to help your child make a sound decision.

Does your child want to quit the team because she or he doesn't have a lot of playing time?

Consider what he is learning by sitting on that bench. What is the problem? Can it be resolved? How will he explain his decision to quit the team to colleges?

Does she want to quit her art class because she is bored and uninspired?

What will she gain by sticking with it? Is she involved in other activities that show her consistency and this level of long-term commitment?

Does he want to drop physics because he feels it's too much work or is it not what he wants to study in college?

A challenge never hurt anyone. But, if a subject is overwhelming a student's entire schedule, something's got to give. Don't encourage your child to drop a class just because he doesn't want to major in it or a related area in college. Colleges like to see that students are tackling a variety of subjects, even if it's not one in which they consistently excel.

Colleges like to see breadth, depth, consistency and commitment, but they also want healthy students on their campuses who follow their passions and don't just go through the motions, but are able to overcome challenging situations.

You know your child better than any advisor, coach, tutor or college admissions officer. What can he or she truly handle? Nothing is more important than your child's emotional state. That is something that should never be sacrificed for the sake of doing what "looks best."

LISA McLAUGHLIN, a Huntington Beach native, is the founder and executive director of EDvantage Consulting Inc., an independent college admission counseling firm in South Orange County. Her column runs on Saturdays. Please send college admissions questions to Lisa@EDvantageConsulting.com.

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