Ages ago when I was a freshman in college, I went to dinner at the Santa Monica Cheesecake Factory with my entire suite to get to know one another. Despite understanding how much money I needed to make each month to pay tuition, traveling abroad for service trips, and doing chores my whole life, my friend Katrina taught me how to cut my chicken off the bone that night. In front of 6 other people. Using my calling card and my landline dorm phone, I recounted this story to my father that same weekend. The pained silence was palpable.
College brings on a host of concerns and challenges. Children’s ability to thrive on their own is critical to their success and is insurance for your peace of mind. However, transitioning from a highly scheduled high school environment to the unstructured, elective pace of college life requires confidence in one key skill: independence. Here are a few ways you can develop independence now in a way that will pay dividends when they’re on their own.
Don’t wake them up senior year.
Whether your student lives at home or goes away for college, they need to be able to set an alarm and manage their mornings. You don’t want to be in the business of keeping track of the different times their work shifts, Biology lab, or surf club meets throughout the week. Encourage a habit of ownership over their time early by ensuring your teen has a reliable way to get themselves up and ready for school on time during senior year.
Introduce your GenZeenager to email.
For better or worse, most professors, official school notifications, and employers tend to rely on email, not TikTok, for important communications about assignments, deadlines, and schedules. Get them in the habit of checking their school or work email now, even if to monitor updates from college mailing lists or high school announcements.
Let them miss a deadline.
It is tempting to swoop in on school projects, monitor portal systems, and serve as the primary contact for college application timelines in order to “save” your student from missing a deadline. However, in the long run, does this teach your child about responsibility? In college, your student will be required to respond to a host of deadlines–assignments, submitting internship or study abroad applications, paying tuition, and registering for classes. These deadlines will be less flexible than those in high school. Your student needs to learn to prioritize what is important to them and honor their commitments. This habit is easier to develop now when stakes are lower, compared to giving up the opportunity to study abroad or pursue an internship because of a missed deadline.
Have them book the appointment.
One easy way to encourage ownership is to have your student take the lead on booking appointments for the doctor, college tours, interviews, or college counseling sessions with their school counselor. At first, it might feel intimidating for your student to schedule a college appointment on their own, but doing it now will make it much easier when they need to self-advocate. Feeling confident in skills like time management, self-advocacy, and speaking with adults will prepare your future grad to grab time with professors during office hours or seek out the medical or mental health support they need.
Recognize their natural voice and interests.
In case you forgot, it’s tough to be a teenager. Your prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed, and you spend most of your days trying to figure out your own identity and where you belong. Even though your kid may eschew it, tell them when you see them light up about something, and when they’re exceptional. It’s really hard for them to elevate themselves out of the day-to-day drag of being a teen and trying to belong. As a parent, your superpower right now is giving them subtle and specific praise and recognition when they come alive. Acknowledging things like, “you have a knack for making people on your team feel included,” or “I noticed you felt comfortable disagreeing with your friends on politics and was really inspired” are the building blocks to build their confidence. Understanding their natural strengths and interests helps inoculate them from groupthink.
As your student approaches senior year, the best way to set them up for academic and student success is to transition in your role from manager to coach to cheerleader. As a manager, you are used to controlling their schedule, money, and activities–the things they do are prescribed by you. As a coach, you want to focus on enabling them with the practice and tools they need to become more independent when it comes to their time and independence. Once in college, the best role you can play for your child is cheerleader–someone on the sidelines applauding the decisions they make that move them closer to the goals they set for themselves. Starting that process in high school will result in a win-win for you and your soon-to-be college student.