When the time comes for your son or daughter to leave home and go off to college, it can be a scary situation, for both the parent and the child. There’s so much that they need to know, and then the thoughts start racing…”Did I prepare them well enough for this?” “Will they be able to handle college?” It’s only natural…as a parent, you love your child and want everything to go as smoothly as possible for them as they spread their wings for the first time. While there is no possible way that you can completely prepare them for every conceivable situation they may face, there are some good basic life skills that you can instill in them before they go. By taking a little time to discuss some of the general areas below, you’ll have them as prepared as possible for what they are likely to face, in college and beyond.
The one disclaimer that every parent should understand and appreciate is this: No matter how much you teach them about college and the world around them, your son or daughter is going to make, and learn from, their own mistakes. Trying to prevent them from making any mistakes is a lesson in futility, and by attempting it, you run the risk of pushing too hard and closing them off to some of the very teachable lessons that you actually can help with.
1) Talk to your teenager about what they can expect from college. Many young adults have a really limited perspective on how college life will be. Explain to them how things are likely to be, and encourage them to ask a lot of “what if this happens” scenario questions.
2) Get them used to time management. Children often fail to develop this particular skill early on, as most of their activities are watched over by parents, who ensure that schedules are maintained and responsibilities kept. The first few weeks of college are going to be a hectic time, and will include a number of factors that a teenager has no experience in taking care of for themself. By working with your child to develop a solid set of time management skills, you can take a lot of the stress out of their first few weeks on campus, which can go a long way toward keeping them mentally focused on the task, or class, at hand.
3) Address any concerns you may have before they have a chance to pop up. You know your child; you raised them and watched their character develop over their first 16-17 years of life. If you think that they will have issues with spending too much time socializing with new college friends and not enough time doing required homework, bring up that point and let them know that you’re concerned about them on that point.
4) Money management… Many children who are ready to go off to college have no real experience in financial matters as you have been paying the bills and taking care of that sort of thing their entire life. Take some time before they go and teach them how to open bank accounts, balance checkbooks and, for goodness sake, teach them that credit cards do not equal free money!
5) Maintain the lifeline…just in case they need it. You may think that this is a continuation of the money management point above, but this applies in a much wider scope than just dollars and cents, paper or plastic. By maintaining regular communication with your college student, you give them an open door to discuss any issues, concerns or problems they may be having without requiring them to call you specifically to talk about the issues.
Even if you work with your child on these issues before they leave, they are still likely to run into some sticking points and difficulties along the way. Give them plenty of room to grow into the young adults they will become, but keep yourself available to assist when they need it. You both are likely to receive an education over the next few years, so keep a sharp number two pencil handy…and take good notes!