Is Your Teen Ready for College?
Before sending your teen off to college—the real world, the big leagues—every parent asks themselves one question: Are they ready? There is a lot that your teen has to prepare for, but luckily, they aren’t alone! Parents, you can be one of the most helpful people when it comes to preparing your child to step up into this new world (no matter how long ago you were there yourself).
As a recent college graduate, I personally experienced a lack of preparation in some areas. So, below I have created a list of ways that you can prepare your teen as well as possible before sending them off to college. Some of these were areas in my life that I was not prepared for. Other areas, although I was prepared personally, I felt I still needed to address.
As you are reading the following suggestions for preparing your teenager, I want to make sure you think about these things:
- Your teenager thinks that you went to college over a millennia ago! You likely have other things that you want to teach your teenager that are not on this list. Great! Teach them those as well. You have lived life longer and are much wiser than they are. Make sure your teenager knows that your expertise is valuable.
- Your teenager knows that you went to college over a century ago (sorry parents). The world, and the average college experience too, is changing. Even since my freshman year, a lot has changed. Make sure to listen to your teenager and ask them if there is anything they want to learn before going to college. They might have very different questions than you have answers to.
- Keep reading. Some of these suggestions on preparing your teen for college might seem obvious. Some might seem so obvious that you’d be tempted to think this article isn’t worth your time. Keep reading. Some parents prepare their teenager amazingly in one area, but not as well in another. This article is designed to offer a wide range of suggestions for preparation. Keep reading.
- Pray. This is an entire section that I write about later. Regardless, pray as you read this article. Pray for God to show you areas in your teen’s life that need to be developed. Pray for God to help you prepare them. Pray.
Parents, this can be one of the most crucial first steps to preparing your teen for college. Which college should they choose? It’s important to help your student do research and find different options of colleges and universities if they need or want the help. But make sure that your teen knows that the final decision is theirs. Remember this is their education, their life, and their future. At the same time, don’t let them forget that it is God who knows what He wants them doing for the Kingdom. Asking them questions like, “What do you feel like God has called you to do?” can help guide them toward colleges that are a good fit.
If your teen doesn’t feel called to any particular area at this time, remember that the average college student changes their major 2-3 times during their time in school. Guide them toward good schools that offer multiple solid degrees to choose from. Personally, I “completely unbiasedly” recommend Toccoa Falls College in the beautiful land of North Georgia.
College is a place where the real world begins to hit. Where the rubber hits the road. Without having a few life skills in their back pocket, college can be needlessly difficult for your teen. Many of these life skills may seem obvious, but without ensuring that your teen really knows what they are doing, there is no way to tell. I have listed below a few that I feel are important.
Finances and money management is one of the most important skills you can teach your teen. So important that I wrote an entire section on it (see below).
Laundry…make your teenagers wash their own clothes. Make sure they know to wash whites separate from colors (something I was taught but didn’t believe at first…) and not to overfill the machine (also messed up this one). Make sure they know to wash their clothes often (this includes bedsheets and towels).
Cooking meals is another important life skill that your teen should learn before heading off to college. Even if they are going to have an unlimited meal plan, they might decide to move to apartment style housing later and have to cook on their own as an upperclassman. Showing them how to cook a few simple meals can keep them from living off of ramen and $5 Hot & Ready pizzas for their entire college career. I would also suggest teaching them how to follow a recipe. It’s not too hard, but baking a few things alongside your teen can make for a fun family night anyway.
Transportation can help your teenager prepare for college in many ways. Learning to navigate public transportation can help your teen to know how to manage the sprawling campus of their college. Many colleges have buses and bus stops to help the students get from one place to another. In this same vein, if traveling by plane, some students might need to know how to navigate an airport on their own. Especially if you want your teen to be able to get home, this can help greatly. Finally, talk to your teenager about the pros and cons of having a car on campus. Depending on the location, time of year, college campus, and many other factors, having a car on campus can be one of the most beneficial or detrimental parts of college.
I was thinking about writing an entire article on this (something that might happen in the future anyway). Nonetheless, teaching your teen about finances, as well as how to have the proper financial mindset, is one of the most valuable life skills they can learn. This includes having conversations about paying for college. Here are some questions you can use to start these conversations: Who is paying for college? If the parent is, what does it look like for your teen to still be responsible for their time in college? If the student is, what steps do they need to take to secure a loan? To pay a loan back? Should they work in college? At what point should they start working before, during, and after college? What does it look like to be successful financially in college? All of these questions can seem daunting at first, especially to your teenager, but it is important to ensure that they can function well in school without being in crippling anxiety about finances or without completely blowing off their responsibilities during a very expensive time in life.
This is not a complicated tip at all. Just send them an email every once in a while and see how long it takes them to respond. Note that I said to email them, not text. They know how to answer texts. Almost every professor in college will either use email or the school’s online database. Teach your teens to adapt. This simple tip could be the difference between passing and failing a course!
Note that this does not say “Independence.” This also doesn’t say “Running Away from Family” or “Your Teen Doesn’t Want You Anymore.” Interdependence, simply put, is the following: “Not leaving mama, but not needing mama.” Your relationship with your teenager is now dependent on both of you. Your teenager will have the opportunity to, in many senses, become independent. This can be good in areas such as living on their own and making money. However, your relationship with your teen should become one of interdependence. Neither you, nor your teen, should be the only one who is putting forth the effort to maintain a relationship.
What does this look like in other areas of your relationship with your teen? It looks like preparing your teen to respect your wisdom and guidance but still allowing them to make decisions on their own and receiving the consequences (good or bad). When your teen is on their own, no one will stop them from having social media. Are they going to get it and fall into the trap of temptation and addiction because they have never been exposed to it before? Or can you teach and guide them on how to use it well while they are under your roof? When your teen is on their own, they need to engage in (or not engage in) specific behaviors and often, experience is the best teacher.
You need to prepare your teen to discern what is evil and what is truly good for themselves. One way to help is by giving your students opportunities to make hard decisions while under your supervision. Help them learn that the reason they shouldn’t do something isn’t only because “I said so.” Soon you won’t be there to “say so.” Personal experience, stories from peers, biblical examples, and godly character can all help to show this to your teen.
Throughout the life of a believer, there are many different stages of faith development that occur. While I don’t have near enough space to write on all of these, I think it is especially important to focus on two in particular during this time of a high schooler’s life. These are Synthetic-Conventional Faith and Individuative-Reflective Faith. If these terms seem daunting at first, don’t worry (they were to me too when I first learned about them). I’ll be writing another article at a later date with more detail on this specifically, but if you want to read more about Faith Development, please check out James Fowler’s book, Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and The Quest for Meaning.
- Synthetic-Conventional Faith: An “imitating” stage, very sensitive to other people’s ideas and expectations. Generally, authority, beliefs, and values may be strongly held, but are not subjected to critical scrutiny; symbols are not separable from what they symbolize.
- Individuative-Reflective Faith: The system of the previous stage comes under critical scrutiny. Beliefs and values are now taken into oneself, requiring firm internal belief, even under great pressure. A demythologizing stage; symbols are translated into conceptual meanings.
All that being said, as you prepare your teenager, be open to the possibility of having some deeper questions with him or her that require strong internal belief. Engage in questions that force them to answer why they believe what they believe. Help them make their faith their own and move away from believing what they believe solely because someone told them to. Rather, help them to build their own faith and trust in the God of the Bible and what He has revealed as Truth.
“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15
Mental health is a topic of increasing popularity today. This comes with both benefits as well as disadvantages. It is a blessing that most people know about mental health and accept it as a real problem. However, there is now an increasing stigma around mental health as more people claim illnesses that they know can gain them attention. As a parent of a teenager, it is important to do everything you can to break the stigma. Whether or not your teen is struggling with this, they will benefit greatly by knowing that mental health is real, difficult, and needs to be addressed.
College can be a fun, community-filled, exciting time in life. But it can also become a stressful, isolating, and tiring time. If they eventually struggle with mental health, they need to know that it’s okay to not be okay and they can seek help. In the likely event they interact with anyone else struggling with this, they need to know how to help them and be there for them.
Some ways you can help your teen grow in their preparedness to deal with their mental health:
- Ensure they have someone they can go to if they are struggling. Make sure your student knows they can always come to you, as their parent or guardian. However, some students might not feel comfortable approaching their parents about a topic like this. Make sure they know it’s also okay to seek guidance from close, Christian friends as well as counselors.
- Reinforce that counseling is okay (and actually really good). Help to explain how beneficial and biblical counseling can be. I am a firm believer that everyone can benefit from counseling. We are all struggling with something in life, and God has put people in our world that specifically focus on guiding us through these struggles while keeping our eyes on Him. Over any of the people listed above, your teenager needs to know they can trust God even with the hard, uncomfortable things. Show them the importance of seeking the Lord first in any problems or struggles in life. We are to seek Him through prayer, hiding His word in our hearts, and worship through everything we do in life.
- Prepare them to help others struggling. At the end of the day, I believe the number one most helpful aid for mental health is hope. Hopelessness is what many of your teen’s peers will be struggling with. Encouraging your student to evangelize can spread the one true hope of Christ to those who are struggling. Teach them to carry one another’s burdens. Also, help them to become comfortable praying over someone. One of the most impactful things that happened to me in college involved a friend praying over me. It went something like this. He asked me how I was doing, to which I truthfully answered, “Not so great right now, but thanks for asking.” Instead of saying, “How can I pray for you?” or even, “I’ll be praying for you!” he said, “Do you mind if I pray for you right now?” We prayed together right there, even as we were walking to class. Share this story (or a similar one that you might have) with your teenager and encourage them to pray for their peers!
CHOOSING FRIENDS (WISELY)
Almost anyone can make friends—it’s the wisdom behind it that needs to be instilled. We have all heard the phrase “you are what you eat.” But Scripture shows us that you also become like the people you are around. Hopefully, your teenager has a great group of Christ-like friends. Leaving those friends, going off to college, and having to make new ones can be a tough process. Emphasize the importance of finding a home church near their college. Absolutely push them to get invested in a college ministry, Cru, BCM, Young Life, or anything similar to these parachurch organizations, but also make sure they know these organizations shouldn’t and cannot replace the local church.
PRAY FOR THEM
Prayer is too powerful to neglect. Let me say that again. Prayer is too powerful to neglect. Go ahead and read that again and say it out loud. I cannot stress this point enough. Pray for your teenager.
Now, for those of you who just read that and thought, “Of course. I am praying for them and have been praying for them!” I want you to find new ways to pray for your teenager. Pray with them. Pray over them. Pray for their friends. Pray for their peers. Pray for their professors. Pray for their future husband or wife. Pray for their mental health. Pray for their faith development. Pray for their wisdom in finances and interdependence. Pray for your teenager. Pray in front of them. Pray by yourself. Pray. Try different prayer practices. Pray for requests. Pray and praise God for how far He has brought your teenager already! Do not stop praying. Prayer is too powerful to neglect.
Are You Ready for Your Teen to go to College?
We have discussed a lot of ways you can prepare your teenager for college. But here, I would like to address someone else: You. The parent. Are you ready for your teenager to go to college? You being ready (or not) for them to leave can actually be one of the most helpful (or detrimental) things for your teenager.
Are you too ready for them to leave? Does your teenager think that you want them gone? Are you someone who your teenager will trust enough to come to with their problems? Are they going to have a safe place to come home to when times get hard? Make sure to express your love to your teenager before they leave. Relationships are constantly affected by every little thing that happens in life. Leaving for college is no different. Your relationship with your teenager will change. Whether or not this becomes a good change is partly up to you. You can only control your own thoughts and actions.
Are you not ready enough? Does your teenager know how to live life without you, or have you made yourself a necessity in their life? You need to show your teenager that you are excited for them to move into this new stage of life! Try to prioritize their growth over your own emotions and desires. Does this mean you can’t miss your teen? Does it mean you can’t cry when you leave their dorm room after moving them in? Of course not! But it does mean that you should do it in a way that puts your teenager’s needs above your own in a selfless, Christ-like fashion.
Pro tip: I used to be a New Student Orientation Leader at my college. One thing we always told parents was to not let your teenager come home for the first few weeks. This is because the first six weeks of college are the most important. These are the weeks where everyone is creating new friendships! They cannot miss out on this. Weekends are especially important as most colleges plan a lot of social events during these times. Your teenager needs to get invested where they will be for the next four (or more) years! It’s bittersweet for the parent, but it can be one of the simplest and most powerful things you can do.
Without a doubt, college will be a place where your teenager will grow. By preparing them as best you can before they leave, you actually open up that period of growth for them to strive for new ways of development. Without having to worry about adapting to all the changes listed in this article, your teen can focus on growth socially, intellectually, spiritually, academically, and emotionally! Thank you for reading, and may you be blessed in your preparation!
Thank you so much for these amazing parents who long for their children to be well prepared for college. I pray for these parents, Lord. Help them to discern what areas to focus on when preparing their teens. Help them to listen to you, obey you, and be an amazing example of a Christ-follower to their teenagers. As for these teenagers, get ready to hear a lot of prayers from these parents! I pray that these students will long for you. I pray that throughout their time in college they grow closer to you in all areas of their life. Help them to learn to rely on you always, in the good times and the difficult ones.