Every good marathon training program, from those meant for amateurs to those for Olympic-level elites, includes a gradual “taper period” 2-3 weeks before the big race. During a taper period, runners do something counterintuitive—they run less and rest more. The running reality is that three weeks before a race, you’ve already made whatever fitness gains you were going to make from your intensive training program. Resting those final 2-3 weeks actually makes you stronger than had you continued at the same intensity.
That’s a lot like how parents should approach preparing your kids to go to college.
For parents, raising kids and preparing them to go out into the world is a lot like going through a marathon training program. For about the first 16 years, you’re in the intensive part of the training program where you do everything for your kids. You read to them when they’re little and a few years later help them with their homework. You have parent-teacher conferences, sign them up for soccer teams, drive them to karate class, and assume all the associated responsibilities that come with raising kids.
But as your kids approach the college years, you’ve got to taper off.
For kids to be successful once they get to college, they need to have experience dealing with things on their own, solving their own problems, and finding their own way. And the only way for them to get the chance to do that is for parents to taper by stepping back and letting kids start learning how to do those things on their own.
You’re not going to make your kids more prepared by continuing to do everything for them any more than a marathoner would be more prepared by training hard right up until race day. The taper is crucial.
Don’t find volunteer opportunities for your kids and sign them up. Taper off and let them find and secure their own opportunities.
Don’t fire off an email to the English teacher when you find out your son is struggling. Encourage him to advocate for himself, letting him visit the teacher to ask for some guidance.
Don’t choose the colleges, fill out the applications and take over the process for your kids. Doing everything for them was the intensive part of the program. Now it’s time to taper and cheer from the sidelines, offering guidance when asked.
That’s the art of the parenting taper period. And every happy, confident, successful college applicant I’ve ever known who went on to flourish in college benefited from a similar program.