If you have a high-school senior, they’re probably getting ready for college next fall. They’ve got good GPAs and good SAT/ACT scores, they’ve sent off their applications, the acceptances should be coming in soon, and they’re ready to go.
Good grades and good test scores will help your teen get into college – that’s true. But your teen also needs a skill set so they can manage college, and these days, many parents completely undermine their child’s ability to acquire that skill set (often without realizing that they’re doing it). It’s not a skill set your teen can learn as part of a class they take. It’s a skill set that comes from the school of hard knocks: responsibility, autonomy, failure, and recovery.
For some parents, this news is really hard to deal with. They’ve done their best to protect their child from hard knocks, and understandably so! But in making sure that your child’s life was as bump-free as you could make it, you may have set up your teen for failure.
So how do you change that, before it’s too late?
Here’s three things you, as a parent, can do during your teen’s senior year, to try to make them a little bit more ready for college in the ways they won’t learn in the classroom.
Stop Keeping Track of Time For Them
If you’re accustomed to waking your child up every morning, it’s way past time to stop doing that. When they’re in a dorm room on the other side of the country, you won’t be able to walk in and shake them awake, and there’s no guarantee they’ll hear you calling on the phone.
In the same way, if you’ve always made sure your child was on time for doctor’s appointments, extracurricular activities, and school functions, it’s time to turn those responsibilities over to them. This includes making the appointments in the first place – let your teen handle that.
How to Stop
Tell your teen that from this point on, they are responsible for being on time. Give them an alarm clock for mornings and a watch with alarm settings on it for other appointments. And here’s the really important part – don’t save them if they mess up. Let them deal with the consequences of the missed doctor appointment or the overslept morning. If they have to deal with the consequences now, they’ll remember it, and they’ll be less likely to let that situation happen again.
Stop Helping Them With Their Homework
For many parents, helping their child with their homework is one of the few ways left to connect. The problem is that too often, parents take over the homework and do it themselves, instead of allowing their child to do it.
Your teen won’t be able to ask you to solve their trigonometry problems or write their essay on Jane Addams’ work when they get to college. Even though it’s hard, it’s important to stop helping them now, so they get used to figuring out how to solve the problems they’ll run into on their own.
How to Stop
When your teen comes to you asking for help with their homework, first ask them what they’ve done so far to solve the problem or understand the question. If all they’ve done is read their book, guide them to the Internet to find YouTube videos on the problem they’re grappling with. Ask them to make notes on those videos and then come back to you if they still don’t understand. 90% of the time, they’ll learn how do do the problem on their own, and they won’t come back. And the 10% of the time that they do, you’ll need to use the method outlined below, for the third thing you need to stop doing.
Stop Solving Their Problems for Them
Many parents are accustomed to giving advice. It’s easy to give advice – “Do this, then do that.” Advice is really helpful when there’s already a process in place to solve the problem, and they just need to know what the process is. Smoke coming out of the car? Take it to a mechanic. See? Simple.
But as your teen moves into college life, they will discover problems that don’t have a tidy process attached – often because the problems involve other people, who are not as predictable as a broken-down car. They will have to learn how to solve the problems themselves, and that means that advice is not only not helpful, but can derail their ability to think through the problem and find a solution.
How to Stop
You can still support your teen when they need support. But that support has to take the form of asking them what they think, not telling them what you do. Memorize this phrase for those times when your teen is confronting a problem: “Can you list a few ways you could deal with this situation?” Let your teen list them, and then ask them which ones they think would work best and why. Or ask them, “If your best friend had this problem, what kind of advice would you give them?” Teens can often solve a problem this way by thinking of how to help a friend.
When they come to you with their problem, guide them to a solution by asking questions, but don’t give advice. Let the teen learn how to solve a problem on their own.
Tying It All Together
Anyone who is a parent goes through several stages, and parenting an older teen is probably the most difficult stage, because the teen has finally reached the point where they need more autonomy and control over their lives. If they don’t learn how to make mistakes and recover from them, they will not succeed in life, but as parents, sometimes it’s really hard to see the child make mistakes, because mistakes are so painful.
Steel yourself and let the teen deal with their mistakes anyway. It’s really the only way to finish the job of parenting by producing a functional adult.
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