You’ve supported your teenage daughter for 18 long years, and now she’s off to college – a self-sufficient, independent adult ready to face whatever life throws at her. You’ve done your job, and now you can relax and enjoy your empty nest. Or maybe not.
In fact, many parents dread sending their innocent child off to an environment fraught with dangers and temptations. Are they really ready to handle themselves without mom and dad’s protection and care? For many, the answer is “yes”; college will be an important transitional period – a rite of passage into adulthood. Unfortunately, for many others, these four precious years are nothing more than an extension of their carefree childhood. They may drop out or graduate as ill-prepared for an independent life as when they entered college.
So what can the doting parents do to help their sons and daughters get the most out of their college experience? You may be tempted to “guide” your teen into the “right” school and the “right” focus of study. Advice and guidance can be useful – if your kids are genuinely seeking your help and receptive to your assistance. But the future you’d like for your child may not be the future he or she actually wants.
Obviously, good study habits are needed to succeed in college, but this is really not something parents can instill in their children at the last minute. If they haven’t developed these habits in elementary and high school, they’ll have a hard time getting into college in the first place, much less acing their courses and landing a great job.
Possibly the most important thing parents need to provide their kids is a stable, nurturing home – where they know they can always seek refuge when things get too tough – while simultaneously encouraging them to think and act independently and responsibly on their own. Even if they intend to live at home and commute to a local school, an important part of the college experience is developing the vital life skills they’ll need to survive and thrive as adults.
Students living in dorms or off campus are going to find themselves suddenly coping with a wide variety of issues they never dealt with as dependents – handling a bank account, credit cards, paying bills on time, etc. Those living off campus especially may need to hold down a part-time job, which means getting to work on time, and balancing work and study time while still having some time for some fun and socializing.
Kids off on their own for the first time can be overwhelmed by all the freedom, with no parents to make sure they do their homework, get adequate sleep and proper meals or to monitor their social activities, block “dangerous” web sites, and protect them from too much “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.” Many college freshman are simply not prepared to manager their time on their own, much less avoid the temptations of unsupervised campus life. Overprotective parents do their children no favors by sheltering them from the real world or by controlling, monitoring and scheduling every minute of their day.
Teenagers need to begin developing self-control, work ethics, and their own moral compass before they leave home, so they won’t flounder around like a ship without a rudder. If they’ve earned some of their own income at summer jobs, or even part-time jobs during the school year, learned how to handle their own credit cards and some of their personal finances in high school, they’ll be much better prepared for life on their own than many of their colleagues.
In other words, the best way parents can prepare their teenage kids to succeed in college is to let them begin to spread their wings and teach them to fly before they take that fateful leap out of the nest.