As our family closes the book on the college years, my mind turns to those families anxiously preparing to send their loved ones off to college in a couple of months. I remember stacks of boxes in the garage being added to daily with “just one more item he/she might need,” and the subsequent hauling “Beverly Hillbilly-style” of all that stuff to Chicago. There is so much more to preparing a child for college, though, and it begins way earlier than the senior year of high school.
There are three main areas of preparation necessary in secondary school: 1) balancing work and fun, 2) budgeting and doing chores, and 3) networking
Balancing Work and Fun
I have often told my students that college itself is not fun; it’s harder work and lots more of it. If they make a plan that does not allow procrastination, though, they will have time for some of the best fun of their lives. In my English/Lit class, the kids have a whole week to get their writing assignments to me via email… the final due date being Sunday evening at midnight. Over my fourteen years of teaching at Lawton Academy, the number of students who turn in their papers in the first two days averages about two students a year. The percentage who turn it in within an hour of the midnight deadline, however, is around 85%! Since these kids have roughly thirty weekly writing assignments per year and I have them for multiple years, I get a lot of opportunity to talk to them about procrastinating – especially when the Internet goes out on Sunday evening!
As a parent, you should be involving your teen in the process of deciding when to do homework. Left to his or her own, most teens will put it off till five minutes before lights out, figuring you will let them stay up to do something “so important.” This habit will not change unless you make it uncomfortable to do. Preemptive: let your teen set the time he or she will do homework, but make it known that you expect an appropriate amount of time be given each evening to studies. Making the study area in a family living space where light monitoring can occur is not out of the question (and highly recommended). If you do this in middle school, the habit will be established enough in high school to continue with less supervision. You should also recognize that your high schooler is beginning to become a night owl, and as such, will be prone to fill the evening with social interaction and leave the homework for after the curfew you set for being in the house at night. Setting the curfew at 10:00 p.m., for instance, allows for the teen to do the work from ten to midnight. While some mothers are probably raising their eyebrows at this, doing the homework late at night is important prep work for college. College students sometimes have to work in groups with people who don’t get off their jobs till late evening, and sometimes it’s your kid who is having to work a job and go to school at the same time. They should not expect a solid eight hours of sleep in college – it’s not going to happen!
College is the last opportunity your son/daughter has to really have fun with a large group of friends. Help them to see that the fun of college comes if you actually get to stay there, and that won’t happen if they don’t make the grades.
Budgeting and Chores
I cannot believe the number of secondary students I see each year who do no chores and have a steady supply of money. What horrible training for college! I have been known to tell my students that the mother who does everything for them is crippling them so they will never leave her side. If she truly loved them, she would teach them to fly.
In my own family, I continued the practice my parents used: the children have chores because they are part of the family and they have allowance because they are part of the family. The two are not related (they don’t get one because of the other). The allowance included the amount needed to cover the expenses I expected them to pay and a little more. In my better organized years, I did the whole budgeting idea with them: some goes to tithe, some to wallet for immediate purchases, some to short-term savings (like for a Six Flags trip coming up), and some to long-term savings for college or a car, every $50 of which we would match. I still like that plan a lot.
I will admit that I used the allowance to teach. My son kept forgetting to take out the trash. My father pointed out that he didn’t need to remember; I would remind him each Sunday. So, for a couple of Sundays, I didn’t remind him, and the trash didn’t get taken out (by him). When allowance time came, I “forgot” to pay him. He would mention it a day or so later, and I would say, “Oh, that’s unfortunate. I forgot. I promise, I won’t forget next week.” Then I’d walk away. It didn’t take long for him to get the point and remember to take the trash out!
In college, your child will be tempted to spend money to go out - nightly, he will have to keep quarters to do laundry, and he will buy at every impulse. You have simply got to teach your child to budget now.
Similarly, college students do not see the need to clean until they move out of the dorm! You don’t have to make a neat freak out of them (because no one will want your child as a roommate!), but you can teach them how not to be a health hazard! Doing laundry, cleaning sinks and toilets and showers, and mopping are three key areas to hit before heading off to college.
The whole point of college is to get a job at the end. That will not happen if your child does not network during the college years. Applications are a dime a dozen; the only thing that counts is who knows you. Internships are a great way to get known. When your teen chooses a college, make sure the town in which the college is located can support another person in the chosen field because the internship is likely to lead to a position. If your teen doesn’t like the area or is in an already-saturated field, it is your turn to prepare… for him/her to move back home!
Both of my children had work right out of college. This is to their credit. Both did the necessary interning and networking to get known by the right kinds of people, and both have achieved much more than their peers. When someone says to me that there are just not jobs to be had, I shake my head knowingly, but inside, I am thinking, “Your child didn’t network enough.”
Networking doesn’t come naturally. It requires confidence to walk up and introduce yourself to someone who could later help you. To gain that confidence, you need to teach your children while in their teens to do this. One great way is to volunteer in the community. Volunteering requires meeting people, talking to them to assess their needs, and connecting them with those who can help. There are so many opportunities for volunteering in the community, but very few of them will just let a teen come into help without the parent being involved. Make this a priority; I guarantee it will pay off in the long run… the end benefit being that maybe they will become philanthropic when they reap the successes afforded them because you laid these foundations early!