In the next month or so, kids from all over will load up cars, say goodbye to their hometown friends and families and head off to college for the first time.
For many, preparations for this day have been going on for years. Some are athletes and have been working to get onto college teams since 3rd grade. Some have been preparing academically and have taken several SAT prep classes and have earned enough AP credits to technically already be sophomores. Applications have been filled out, campuses have been visited, the waiting is over and the decisions have been made.
More recently, your preparations included trips to Bed Bath and Beyond, Target and Walmart resulting in a dedicated “staging area” in your home full of bedding, matching towels, plastic carryalls of toiletries, laundry baskets, detergent, dishes, hotplates, flatscreen TV’s, desk lamps, under bed storage bins and the “can’t live without” mini Keurig machine. Lists have been made, new shoes and clothes have been packed, and now, finally, the car is loaded up leaving barely enough legroom for the trip. It’s time.
They are prepared. Are you sure about that?
There is no doubt that they have most of what they will need to live comfortably at school. Their room will be well organized, they will have their books, and their class schedule is in hand. They’ve been in touch with their roommates, have a campus map at the ready and understand their meal plans.
But have you truly prepared them for college? Because succeeding there requires far more preparation than that. They need to come armed and ready and the only way they can get to that stage is by your guidance and counsel.
Here are the things that we decided our kids needed to know before we ever left the driveway:
1. You don’t have “wingmen” yet: At home, your kid has friends that they can count on. Their friends have been in your home, they know your family and they will have a certain loyalty to your child. Make sure that your child understands that, although they are making new friends everyday, loyalty takes time to develop. Kids should not assume that anyone is really looking out for them like they are used to and that, at least in the beginning, no one is making sure he gets home safely, doesn’t drink too much, or is doing what he should be.
2. There are no parents at college: You would think this is obvious, but you might be surprised at how unprepared kids are to witness what that really means. Many college students arrive at school having been given very little freedom by their parents to make decisions and to be independent and they simply lose their minds with the lack of boundaries and accountability. Believe it or not, all that “free for all” can be very disconcerting to some kids. I prepare my kids for what they may experience by practicing independence over the years as they approach college. Little by little, and as they earn trust, we allow more and more decision making and freedom. After all, these are adults you are sending into the world and they need to make it without mommy and daddy. They have to learn how to swim with the sharks before you release them in to the wild. And believe me, it can get pretty wild…
3. a.) Binge drinking can kill you. b.) drugs are illegal and dangerous. c.) having a baby and living in our basement is not nearly as fun as going to college: All kids know this, but they don’t know this. Show them. I’ve gone over statistics. I’ve discussed scenarios, quizzed them on alcohol content and I’ve demonstrated what an ounce looks like. We’ve discussed the consequences of drug use; loss of control, addiction, and jail. I’ve told them what it will cost them financially should they father a baby, I’ve discussed birth control, sexual assault, and made my expectations about all of it very clear. I’ve shown them multiple videos multiple times and driven them absolutely crazy with information. Even with all of that, they will make bad decisions. But, under no circumstances can any of my kids ever say to me, “You never told me that.” Or, “Adderral’s safe, it’s a prescription.” Don’t allow your discomfort about a subject to keep you from telling your kids what you expect and require of them. They listen way more than you think they do.
4. If someone is in trouble, I expect you to help or get help: No kid will ever regret calling an ambulance or an RA if they or someone else needs help, but they will most assuredly regret it if they don’t. Make sure you child knows this and understands that you expect them to get help. Most schools have an amnesty program now that ensures that those that are in trouble and the kids who call for help won’t face any repercussions. Go over it with your child so that they what it’s about long before they arrive on campus. Can you imagine losing a child because someone was too afraid to call for help? I know I can’t and I make sure my kids understand that I expect them to step up or step in if necessary.
5. Going to college is a privilege: While I want my kids’ college career to be fun, exciting and all it can be, I also make sure that they realize that this is expensive stuff and is not a 4 year vacation. As parents, tell them that you expect them to act like adults and work hard, to do well in class and to respect the sacrifice being made for them. I even go so far as to break down the cost of one class, so they know what it means if they skip it. Put it in terms they understand. Tell them that if they miss three classes in a semester, it could cost as much as they made all summer sweating their butts off pumping gas. This they get.
6. Tell them how much they are loved and give them an army to stand with them: Of course you love them and of course they know that, but again, they don’t really know that. Take the time to look them in the eye, tell them that they mean the world to you, and that there are lots of people in and outside of your family that care about them and are rooting for them. Knowing that they have a support system and knowing that should they screw up, lots of people will be disappointed, may just keep them from making that really stupid, really rash decision in that really bad moment. Give them an army to stand with them.
I know it’s a terrifying time, but armed and prepared is the way to go. Go ahead and make their dorm room the most admired, well decorated and well stocked on the floor, but don’t pull away without truly preparing them. In the end, they will be thankful and they will thrive.
So how will you prepare your kids?
Good luck to all! Go get ’em frosh!