As parents, we have spent the last 18 years preparing our offspring to survive on their own. Or have we? During lunch with a friend, her college age daughter called and asked her mom how to unfreeze a hot dog bun. My friend hung up and with a roll of her eyes said, “Really? You think you’ve prepared them for college only to get a question like that.”
While parents welcome phone calls from their children, especially now that kids get most of their questions answered by the Internet, parents still want to think their child is prepared for the real world. Yet parents may get nervous when asked, “How long can I go without changing my sheets?” There are a few guidelines that can help ensure your child is ready for college.
At some point during the high school years, it is good for teens to learn to conduct their own banking. Not only will they benefit from having their own bank account, but they should also become accustomed to using an ATM, talking to a teller, and using a credit card, if they are responsible enough to have a credit card. If they do not yet have their own card, be aware credit card companies pay colleges large amounts of money to be able to market their cards to students on campus. So, at the least, sit your child down and show them a sample credit card statement and explain finance charges so they are not surprised when you refuse to bail them out of a $1,000 bill (this is the average amount of credit card debt a college student carries).
Teach your teen how to do their own laundry. This is not just about what they should do but what they should not do, such as stuffing everything they own into one load because it will be faster. It can take a teenager many ruined loads before they master the importance of emptying their pockets and sorting lights from darks.
Demonstrate how to cook a few basic meals because microwave popcorn and ramen noodles only go so far. Perhaps you have a few simple recipes you know they like and that you can share with them. Reminders on food safety, sanitizing the prep area, and proper food storage may be needed.
Show your teen how to book a flight, navigate an airport and train station. Becoming comfortable with travel not only will lower their anxiety when they must travel but it will help keep them safe. Also, it may not be a bad idea for your teen to learn basic self-defense. I highly recommend Krav Maga classes. This is the self-dense system of the Israel Defense Forces, which focuses on real-world situations.
Prepare your child for using a pharmacy. Have them pick up their own medications and ask questions about their medication with the pharmacist. Sometimes it is as basic as knowing whether to take the medication in the morning or evening, or whether to take with food or without. This is also a good time to explain medical insurance and the questions to ask when using a clinic on campus.
Last but not least, one in four students will have trouble with grades as a result of drinking too much. Depending on your experience and point of view on the subject, talking to your teen about the dangers of binge drinking is best done proactively during family conversations, rather than reactively when you find your student in danger of failing.
The sad truth is that 30% of college students drop out after the first year due mainly to pressure and stress, so parents will want to help ensure that their child has success and that the struggles are minimal. You can sit your teen down and explain much of this to them but there is nothing like real world experiences. Even though they may buck when you tell them to go to the post office or pharmacy or bank by themselves, this is where the learning occurs. If addressed while they are still living at home, it is easier for you to be an important part of the learning curve. You will be able to correct and mitigate their initial errors and provide the feedback they need for navigating successfully in their exciting new world.