The four years of high school can best be described as a blur. Your teens are busier than ever, juggling challenging classes and homework, after school activities, sports, their first jobs and leadership roles. Then, when it seems like they can't possibly get busier, they start looking at colleges, beefing up their service hours and studying for the ACTs.
Together, you spend so much time preparing for college that you hardly have time to stop and ask, are they ready for college? Besides academically, socially and emotionally — do they have the actual life skills to live on their own?
A number of college freshmen show up not knowing basic adult skills, leading to frustrated professors, residence hall managers and long-distance parents.
If it's been a while since you were in college, here's a reminder of the valuable lessons your kids should learn before they head off to school:
How to do laundry. Sure, she probably knows how to operate your washer and dryer, but take her to a Laundromat and let her take an industrial machine for a test ride. In addition to the usual sorting and pre-treating lessons, she needs to know laundry room etiquette: Remove your clothes promptly, or they will end up on the floor.
How to cook. He'll probably have a cafeteria meal plan the first year, but soon enough he'll need to know how to plan healthy meals, grocery shop and prepare food. Don't forget a lesson on how long things last in the refrigerator, or he'll be texting you photos of lunch meat and asking, 'Does this look OK?'
How to stay healthy. I think every mom has gotten a call during freshman year with the complaint about a sore throat, diarrhea or headache. Send him off to school with the same OTC meds you keep around the house. Teach her when it's necessary to go to the Health Services clinic or the ER. Remember, now that she is 18, HIPAA does not permit you to have access to her medical information, even if you're paying the bill.
How to manage their schedule. In college, professors will not remind students of their due dates, offer makeup exams or provide extra credit opportunities. They will give them a syllabus on the first day and expect them to be reading along all semester. The lectures may or may not have anything to do with the textbooks, but the exams might.
How to handle stress. Stress is a huge problem for college freshmen, between the intimidating new environment, heavy workload and more homesickness than they're willing to admit. It's tempting to blow off steam with weekend partying, which can lead to an unhealthy habit at best, and alcoholism and safety risks at worst. Encourage her to maintain her workout routine, take a yoga class or join a club sport. Have him talk to a counselor at Health Services, if necessary. There are loads of stress-reduction outlets included in tuition.
How to get their finances in order. If your student is going to get a part-time job, rent an apartment, apply for a summer internship, get a credit card or basically do any adult activity, he needs to know how to manage money. That includes knowing:
• His social security number
• How to fill out a W-4 form (what's a withholding?)
• How to budget so your money lasts through the month
• How to balance a checkbook or maintain an online register
• How to build credit
• How to use a credit card with restraint
How to stay safe. One of the biggest risks on campus these days is date rape. Remind your teen (because she should have learned this in high school) never to leave her drink unattended at a party. Stick with a buddy and don't let her go off with anyone if she's too drunk to watch out for herself.
How to get around. He may have been using Siri to tell him how to get places for the last few years, so make sure he can read a campus map and figure out how to get to the nearest grocery store.
How to make friends. So many kids are scheduled with activities that come with a built-in crew of friends, and when they do have some free time, we arrange play dates for them. This eventually results in college freshmen resorting to their smart phones rather than talking to each other before class or in the dorm common rooms. They are simply missing the skills to go up to someone they've never seen before and introduce themselves. Give your teen opportunities to practice!
A great way to practice these skills is to take advantage of summer camps offered to incoming freshmen. Your teen can have the opportunity to live in the dorms, get to know the layout of the campus and meet other incoming freshmen before they move in. When you drop him off, encourage your freshman to attend all of the orientation sessions he can, as there's an advantage to being the kid on the floor who knows where everything is and how everything works.
Once she's off to school, take a deep breath and let her fend for herself. Even the sturdiest helicopter has to land and rest once in a while.■
Maureen Connors Badding is an award-winning, Wauwatosa-based freelance writer, mom and habitual volunteer.