When I was a freshman in college, I had a number of classes with a guy who lived on my hall. I got to know him a bit and was shocked that he had not learned how to prepare for college. He clearly was smart, but incredibly irresponsible; every time I saw him, he was either headed to a party or stoned in his room. It was common to see him in an inebriated state, even on the evenings before an exam. I once ran into him the night before a major paper was due. He asked me where I was going and I told him that I was naturally headed to the library. Meanwhile, he headed off to a party without a care in the world.
The next morning after our first class together he ran up to me desperate for my help. The paper was due in an hour and he hadn’t written a word. I told him there was nothing I could do to help at that point so he ran off to complete what he could. As we arrived at class an hour later, I asked him what he was able to accomplish. He had one paragraph written that he had clearly copied out of an encyclopedia. Not surprisingly, he would eventually flunk out of school. I saw many like him while at college and many more while working with teens. The last thing we want is for our kids to arrive at college unprepared to enter that world. The following is how to prepare your teenager to thrive in college.
Making Good Decisions
It’s important to teach our kids how to make good decisions. In order to do that, they have to be able to think a couple of moves ahead. They need to be able to see the end game; the eventual results or consequences of their actions in their head before they even make a move. If college is the first time they are making decisions and facing consequences without their parent saving the day, they doomed to fail.
Start as young as you can having them own some choices and gradually give them more and more. Talk with them about how to think strategically and look at situations from multiple angles. Teach them to ask questions like, “What will happen if I choose to do X? How will people respond? What are all of the possible results? What will I do then?” Play chess with them. Chess trains the brain to think a couple of moves ahead.
Choosing Their Company
The group of people they choose to hang out with in the first three weeks can determine the next four years. We are going to be influenced by the company we keep. All of my friends in college were high on character and way smarter than me, particularly my second-year roommate. I never won an argument, ever. It was frustrating. I’m not trying to disparage my own intelligence. My point is that I specifically sought to surround myself with people who would make me sharper. That’s exactly what happened. Emphasize the importance of choosing friends wisely.
Managing Their Time
The teenage schedule has been structured for them. They get up early in the morning to go to school all day, have clubs or sports right after, come home for a second for dinner, head out to meet classmates for a group project, and then come home to do the rest of their homework before collapsing into bed. College brings more of an open schedule, unless they play sports, and they need to know how to structure their time. Work with them on self-discipline, goal setting, and how to make a plan to achieve them while in middle and high school.
Managing Their Money
College is a great place to accumulate debt. Tuition is one thing, but credit card companies target college students. Again, start teaching your kids as young as possible to be wise with their money. With young kids, have them earn an allowance by doing chores around the house. If they want a toy, tell them they need to save their money for it. You could also have them borrow money from you and pay you interest as an illustration of debt. It’s better to learn it from you than Visa and Mastercard.
Your child may not be ready for college right after high school. Some need some perspective and maturity before it’s time to go. A gap year could be exactly what they need. If you are seeing alarming habits, discuss this possibility with them. A job, internship, service projects, or missions trips might be a dose of reality or give them the self-discovery that sets them on the right trajectory as they go into higher education.
Sound Off: How are you preparing your kids for college?
BJ Foster is the Director of Content Creation for All Pro Dad and a married father of two.