35987835 - student portrait in front of dormitory at college with family

Countdown to College Part 1-Practicing Independence

In There's a Stranger in My House by Dr James Wellborn

“I’m going to hang out this weekend.  I’ll see you on Monday.”

“Wait.  What?  What do you mean you’ll see me on Monday?  You are NOT staying gone all weekend!”

“When I’m at college in a couple of weeks, you won’t even know if I ever come back in!”

“The ink isn’t dry on your diploma, you aren’t leaving for 2 ½ months and right now you’re living at home!  As long as you live under my roof . . .”

Whether they know it or not, entering college will present your kid with a slew of challenges:  actual freedom, insecurity, loneliness, homesickness, establishing an identity with peers, developing a young adult identity, access to alcohol & drugs, opportunities for casual sexual relationships, true personal responsibility (and the obligations that go along with it), few external sources of accountability, sharing a room with someone new, setting clear personal boundaries, managing time, balancing competing demands, self-restraint, self-discipline, money management.  The list goes on and on.

So, how do you try to prepare them for the challenges that await them?   How do you deal with your kid’s insufferable belief that they are now a fully grown adult with no need for parents (except to pay for all their expenses and supporting resources, of course)?  It is a lot easier to just keep a tight reign on them across the summer until you ship them off.  However, if you do you will miss the opportunity to prepare them for the transition from having limits set for them to setting limits for themselves.

Here are some things to consider as y’all negotiate your way through the long, hot summer.

Lots of talking, even more listening.   Make sure you have ongoing conversations with your teen across the summer about the things they will face at college.  Talk about goal setting and planning, responsibility, time management, STUDYING, social aspects of college, sex, alcohol and drugs, relationships, risks and dangers, etc.  You will probably have to arrange the time for talking and bring up the topics yourself.  Wade right in.  Don’t accept their attempts to side step it or blow it off.  Ask a lot of questions before you offer any comments or advice (e.g., “Have you thought what you are going to do about . . “ “What do you plan to do about . . .”).  Require them to contribute to the conversation.  You need to find out what your kid is thinking and what they know (and don’t know).

Practice freedom.  As it turns out, it really is important for your kid to have some experience with freedom before you unleash them.  Consider giving them a freer hand during the summer with how they spend their time, how they set their priorities, and, God help you, when they come in at night.

Practice responsibility.   There are many responsibilities your kid will be acquiring when they go off to college.  They are responsible for managing their priorities, money, the impact of their behavior on others, decision making and managing their own affairs in general.  Require them to be more responsible for managing their lives.  This means having them determine things like curfew and managing their money (e.g., shifting to bi-weekly or monthly allowances including gas money to start learning how to track expenses, etc.).  This also means that y’all will be reviewing how they handle responsibilities.

Goal setting and planning.  This won’t be much of an issue if you have already been working with your kid on fulfilling responsibilities, goal setting, and planning (or if you have one of those naturally organized, compliant kids).  If not, sit down with your kid at the beginning of the summer and have them lay out their summer plans.  In addition to personal goals, their plans should include responsibilities around the house and to the family, obligations to others (namely, you) and college preparations (e.g., orientation, getting everything together).  Rather than laying it out for them, direct the conversation in a way that requires THEM to identify their goals and the timeline for accomplishing them.  Then add in anything you think they might have missed.  Set specific dates for when goals are to be accomplished and to review progress.  When the date arrives, call a meeting.  You are going to be the mechanism for accountability.

Short term consequences and reset privileges.  Once your kid has established their own priorities and structure (with your agreement), hold them accountable for sticking to the plan.  If they are irresponsible (defined by violating their own rules), you will step in and pull back their freedoms.  Have a discussion.  Ground them for a week while y’all refine their plans.  Talk about why the plans fell through (or what is unacceptable).  Have them refine their plans.  (And refining doesn’t mean that they just remove any expectations so they aren’t accountable.)  After a week, let them loose again with the understanding that they are accountable for the plans (and limits) they have identified.

Time management.  How much sleep do they need?  How are they going to balance their responsibilities with having fun?  If there aren’t any naturally occurring responsibilities, assign some.  These will be a way to test their readiness (so be sure to tell them it’s a test).  Neglecting responsibilities is a sign they are not ready to manage their own affairs.  That means mommy and daddy have to step in.  Review the problems that have arisen with how they have managed their time.  They must demonstrate improvements during a week of being reigned in by curfew and activities.  If they demonstrate “maturity” (i.e., not whining, showing you they are responsible and accountable for their commitments) let the leash out again.

Once you have the structure in place for helping your kid practice greater freedom and responsibility, there are some specific conversations that are worth having regarding sex, alcohol and drugs, and risky or outright dangerous situations.  Suggestions for dealing with these issues will be presented in a follow up blogs.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email