Graduation season is upon us, and those of us who are parents are suddenly struck by the fact that, before we know it, we will be sending our children off to college.
Use the time before they leave for school to have focused conversations that will empower and prepare them for the challenges ahead. In addition to discussing practical topics, like saving money and sticking to their budget, help them identify their strengths, their abilities, and their possibilities—as well as their biggest challenges.
Inevitably, we may be asking ourselves if we have prepared our children to leave home and to navigate the challenges that arise as they move into unknown territory. Have we given them the tools they need to make good decisions?
Here are a few discussions you may want to have with your children before they head off to college this fall:
Help your children identify their intentions for the first year of college
Hold your soon-to-be college students accountable for the decisions they make. Setting an intention for the first year of school—what your children hope to accomplish and what they want to learn—can create clarity and focus.
Ask your children where they see themselves time next year and what they think is necessary to get there:
1. What are your children’s priorities, and how might those priorities help them achieve success?
2. What does that success look like? Is it good grades, meaningful experiences, or both?
Encourage your children to write their thoughts down and to use those thoughts as a reference point moving forward.
Discuss tools for balancing personal freedom with personal responsibility
Living on campus can offer more freedom, but it also means new responsibilities. Laundry, grocery shopping, and scheduling activities are all things you may have previously been handling for your children.
Ask your children what strategies they already have in place that may help balance school requirements—including class schedules, deadlines, and assignments—with personal responsibilities such as rest, nutrition, and friendships.
3. What tools have your children used to decide which extracurricular activities or classes to pursue?
4. How have they aligned these choices with more long-term goals?
Keep in mind that this may be a child’s first real experience with maintaining a work-life balance, but acknowledge his or her resourcefulness. Your college student likely has more tools than everyone realizes.
This is also a good opportunity to talk to your children about their monetary obligations. Whether your children will work during college or live on a fixed allowance you provide, remind them that they will need to be resourceful and responsible with money and that they will have to balance it between recreation and obligations.
Talk to your children about risk
Every parent knows that there are risks involved with sending a child into the real world; it’s why many get nervous about doing so.
Discuss the difficult choices your children may face and the decisions they might make in the face of those choices:
5. What difficulties have they faced in the past, and how might those decisions inform future ones?
6. How can decisions your children make at school potentially impact them after college?
Encourage your children to realize their ability to make good choices, and realize that the choices they make in college do not exist in a vacuum—these choices could have long-standing consequences.
There is one caveat to all of this, of course: Leaving home for college is very much like setting off on a journey to unknown territory. There is only so much preparation that any of us can have; it will be an adventure, and there will be challenges.
What are some ways you assist and support your teens as they practice being in charge of their own decisions?
Diane Turner is a licensed psychotherapist, certified life coach, and author. In her book, “Heart Wisdom, A Concise Companion for Creating a Life of Possibility” (NightHorses Publishing, March 2013), Turner guides readers to acknowledge the past, focus on the present, and create what they want in their own lives through self-acceptance, personal responsibility, and focused intentions. Turner received her B.A. from Tulane University and her M.S.W. from the University of Illinois, Jane Addams School of Social Work. Her practice is based out of both Chicago and Tucson, and she has frequently lectured on “Living in Possibility,” including during regular guest appearances on Tucson’s “Circles of Change” radio show. For more information, please visit www.dianesturner.com