"Can I Get Your Advice on Something?"
Pop quiz: When your wife asks you if the pants she’s wearing make her look fat, what do you tell her? That’s right: “No, honey, you look beautiful!” is the appropriate answer. No matter how much she tells you she values your honesty, she wants to hear that she looks good and, being a good partner, you tell her exactly that. Are you being entirely honest? Probably not but is the 100-percent truthful answer worth a possible fight? No way, José.
How does this apply to giving advice to your college-age child, you ask? It translates exactly. Children often go to their parents for advice already knowing the decision they would make and if their parents’ decision doesn’t jive with theirs, watch out. If your child comes to you asking if they should join a fraternity or sorority, they are interested in pledging or have already received a bid from at least one house. When you snip that Greek life is all about getting drunk and paying for friendships, it’s not going to sit too well with your child and they may join anyway just to spite you. Responding with “I never pledged so I’m not entirely sure…tell me why you’re interested” is great because you’re not passing judgment and are gauging their curiosity at the same time. This won’t work if your child knows you were a Kappa Sigma, of course, so tell them what your experience was like – positive or negative – and let them choose their path from there. If you loved going Greek, maybe they will too but if your time was less than perfect, revealing such in a non-bashing way could be a key factor in your child’s final choice.
Now for unsolicited advice. Think back to your wife and her pants. If you notice her outfit isn’t super flattering as she’s looking in the mirror, are you just going to pipe up and say, “You know, I really don’t think those pants work with your body type”? Yeah, we didn’t think so, so why would you think to do it with your child? Sure, you’re responsible for their existence on this planet but if they don’t directly ask you what your opinion is, don’t offer it. Doing so will make you seem meddlesome or wary of your child’s decision-making skills and it’s likely that it will prevent your child from coming to you for advice at all. When in doubt, keep your mouth shut unless you truly feel your child’s decision could threaten their safety or jeopardize their future.