And, off they go — to college, that is. For many parents sending your teen off to college is a defining moment in your relationship. Some parents remember leaving their aspiring adult in an unfamiliar setting and fretting about how he will handle the challenges ahead. Other parents leave their teen behind assured that she has the skills necessary to make good decisions. For a small number of parents and teens, it may be a relatively calm release into the adult academic world. But for many others, it is a transitional time that tests the mettle of child and parent.
For most freshmen, that first year of college requires some parental guidance, regardless of perceived level of maturity and readiness. Some students survive, others end up back home or trying it again at another institution. Recent studies report that one third to one half of freshmen don’t go on to their sophomore year. Many factors enter into this including homesickness, inability to socialize (or socializing too much), unpreparedness, lack of money, poor time management and immaturity.
While many high schools and prep schools successfully prepare students academically to enter competitive college classrooms, few address the life skills necessary to make this transition. These abilities should be learned at home. And, they should be taught during a child’s young, formative years.
It is naïve to think that the summer after the senior year will be the season of maturity transformation—that your child will magically understand time management, personal and social responsibility, decision making, financial accountability, and be street smart.
Kim and David Smith of Peachtree City sent their son, Hartley, off to Auburn last fall with great success. Kim says they ran a “tight ship” while their son and daughter, Caroline, were growing up. She relates that from an early age their children were expected to make their own beds, and as they matured additional household chores were required (without an allowance).
“Our thought was that it’s all about living together as a family. Contributing is what you do.”
She goes on to say that they have always made it a point to explore beyond the “bubble” (Peachtree City).
“We teach them situational awareness so they have the skills to navigate different environments.” She adds, “We take Marta often, and when we are in other larger cities we make it a point to take public transportation. They are taught to know where they are, to be aware of their surroundings and to use common sense.”
Financial responsibility and time management can be tough things to grasp if the groundwork isn’t initially laid at home. Kim says they helped Hartley set up his own checking account when he was 15 and was earning money mowing lawns. Having a job and learning to work for, and with others, was also a key learning experience when Hartley was employed with Chick-fil-A. “Working helped him learn time management,” says Kim. “He had to allot time for himself, for school and work.”
Jill Delgado and her husband, Andre, of Peachtree City, have two children in college. Kailey is an upcoming sophomore at Alabama, and son, Sean, is beginning his senior year at Towson University in Maryland. They expect both children to work in the summer for their own pocket money.
“Once they started earning their own money, they were better at managing it,” chuckles Jill.
Both families taught their children the importance of giving back by encouraging them to volunteer in their churches and in the community and to help neighbors.
“They knew that anyone can be down on their luck at any point,” says Kim.
Children don’t automatically morph into responsible adults. Sometimes parents must don the “tough love” hat to teach responsibility. Kim remembers that Hartley forgot an important paper when in high school and wanted her to bring it to him. She refused knowing that it was his responsibility to see that he had it and knowing that in his college future she would not be there.
“I felt like an awful mom, but he had to learn that I wasn’t always going to be there for him.”
When teens begin their college experience, it is a new stage of life for parents as well. Although instant communication is so ubiquitous in today’s world, parents need to refrain from constantly trying to be in touch with their child. Don’t text your child every hour.
“We made it a rule when our kids entered college that they weren’t coming home and we weren’t coming to visit for six weeks,” says Jill.
She admits that this may sound cruel, but she believes that most kids need time to adjust on their own.
“Of course, they could call whenever they wanted and they did.” Jill surmises that most kids have it so good at home that it is harder to transition to college.
“Believe me, every parent will get the call. Something disappointing has happened, they need advice, or they are missing home,” Jill says.
Maybe then is the time to quote Dr. Suess, “You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”