Parenting Your College-Bound Teen
Think about those questions you had when you got ready to send your child to pre-school or kindergarten:
- Is this really the best place for him?
- Will she be OK?
- What will his teacher be like?
- Why do all the other kids look so much bigger than my kid?
Questions like these, of course, found answers along the way, and were eventually replaced by other questions—about elementary school … middle school … high school. And now … college.
As you think seriously about—and worry over—the next step in your child's life, you've got a whole new crop of questions that can possibly be boiled down into one:
How do I prepare my child for college and the rest of life?
Asking questions about your child's future is a healthy sign. It shows you care! Think about the time you spent reading to and with your kids. Remember those times you made them listen to some instructions over and over until they "got it right"? Then there were the times you directed the way they played with others.
You undoubtedly made some mistakes along the way. But you've always been there for them. Throughout grade school, middle school and even high school, they needed you to be involved and interested in their lives. And you were. Guess what? They need you now more than ever.
As you think about offering guidance for the college search, here are a few reminders of things you already know about your son or daughter:
- Your child is made in God's image.
- Your child is full of amazing potential.
- Your child is uniquely gifted by God.
Believing these truths about your child is the first step to preparing your child for college, and for the rest of life.
Treating your child as someone made in God's image should set the stage for any discussions you'll have about choosing a college. This, of course, means taking them and their opinions seriously. As you do, you'll find it's much easier to come alongside them and offer specific direction and guidance in five specific ways:
- Ask them, Why is college important to you? This is such a foundational question. It probably won't be easy to answer. They may say, "Well, it just seems like the thing to do," or "My friends are going, so I guess I should," or "You want me to." So ask it again, in different ways: What does college have to offer you? How will your life be different if you go to college? Questions like these will help them think about the value of higher education. Try not to force your opinions on your son or daughter. Instead, focus on asking questions that will guide their thinking. It also would be helpful to have them list those things they'd like to accomplish in life. After they do, then ask another question: "How will a college education help you achieve these goals?"
- Help them explore their options. Your child may come to you with one or two colleges they'd like to attend. Those choices may actually reflect what their friends think rather than what school would be the best fit for them. Have your child list the top five things that are important to them in a college. Then make your own list and compare the two. Have them talk about what's important to them and why it's important. Explain why the things on your list are important to you. (For a helpful family exercise, see "College Choice Worksheet," page 41.) Then go online and check out several schools they've talked about and several schools you'd like them to consider. Also, use the ads and information in this college guide to help you in your search. Use the lists you created to evaluate each school.
- Give them a realistic picture of their options. Let's say they narrow their choices to between five and 10 schools. Now it's time to get beyond "first impressions" to see how realistic each option is. Ask questions and offer brief comments that will help them gain a more down-to-earth look at each institution. Here are two examples:
"This school has a reputation for being a good learning environment. And it's important to be at a school where both faculty and students know the value of learning."
"To afford that school, you sure could use a merit scholarship. What can you do right now to improve your chances of getting a scholarship?"
- Help them keep an eye on deadlines. Remind them of important application and scholarship dates. Get these dates on the family calendar, or wherever you and your teen will easily notice them.
- Be honest about the costs of college. Parents are often reluctant to talk to their children about finances. Don't be. They need to understand the investment and sacrifices that the entire family will be making in the coming years. They also need to understand that the cost is about more than tuition and room and board. Talk to them about transportation expenses, lab fees, book costs, cash for weekend entertainment, and similar expenses. With the costs all out in the open, it's time to discuss how their entire education will be financed, and the part they will play in paying for their education. Doing this will encourage them to take some ownership. It also may help them realize they need to work hard, spend frugally and save tenaciously.
As you offer guidance and advice during the college search, and even argue now and then, keep one thing in mind: God formed your child before the beginning of time. He put your child in a particular family, in a particular city, and in a particular era. He created your child to do good works that would bring glory to the Creator. He promised that your child could be an adopted Son of God and could call God "Father."
God the Father gave his only Son so that your child might have abundant life. God the Son promised that his Spirit would empower your child to do far more than he or she would ever ask or think possible.
Think about college as a place that will help nurture your son or daughter in their growth as a child of God. The college they choose has the potential to prepare them to extend God's kingdom into areas of business, government, medicine, or communications in eternally profitable ways.
Wow! What an opportunity! And you get to be a part of it all.
Written by Frank Brock
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