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Are You and Your Teenager Prepared for College?

Updated on August 21, 2019
amgunn profile image

I have a Ph.D. from Washington State University (2002) and have been an educator and tutor since 1991.

When Your Child Isn't Ready For College: Why Parents Push, Why Kids Resist

Why going to college isn't as easy for your kid as it might have been for you:

Parents don't want to admit that their child may not be handling this process all that well. Some of my happiest clients have been those who started out with very resistant kids. These kids were digging their heels in, refusing to apply to any schools, or dragging out the application process. Sometimes the reason for this, in an otherwise intelligent kid who has done pretty well in school, is based on fear--fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of parental expectations. The idea that your child can fail at what was probably a very simple, straightforward task for you--finding schools, applying to them, getting accepted to the school of your choice--is something that you may feel reflects badly on you. And you may be wondering, at the same time that you love your child and sincerely want them to do well, where you went wrong, or if there is something wrong with your kid.

But this is a harder process for your child today than it was for you. For one thing, there are more opportunities to choose from--more schools offering a greater variety of majors; more scholarship opportunities to choose from; and the repercussions for your child if they don't get a college degree has never been more stressful. The pressure of knowing that she may never meet or exceed her parents' lifestyle is a concern kids may not be able to articulate, but they nonetheless are afraid of being left behind.

When you add their fears of failure/success to this, plus their friends' experiences, you have the potential for an almost paralyzing anxiety about the entire process. This is where much of the feet-dragging and resistance stems from.

Some Mistakes I've Seen Parents Make:

  1. Remember that it's your child's education. Realize that the school you may want her to attend may not be the right one for her.
  2. This can be the most difficult lesson for a parent to learn, which is to let go of the hope that your child will follow in your footsteps, or attend the school you believe is 'best' for him.
  3. An example: Two parents both attended the same university. It's where they met each other, fell in love, had similar experiences. The school is automatically an emotional connection for them; they remember their experiences fondly, and have a romantic notion that their child will have an equally wonderful personal experience.
  4. Another example: The school in question is 'in the family.' Generations of family members have attended this university. It is considered 'tradition,' and the child has been raised expecting to attend this university.

Is your child actually ready for college?

Kids go to college every day unprepared practically and emotionally for the rigors of academia. How can you tell if your child is really ready? You're probably thinking, hey, she graduated from high school, she's ready! Right!? Well, no, not necessarily, and the larger the school or university, the harder the transition for some kids. There are certain things you can do for your kid early on, that will really help him make the most of the college experience, and in each case of a kid I taught who didn't have these skills, it held him or her back.

What it means to be ready for college:

There are cognitive, emotional and practical abilities that let you know she's ready for college. Just because she has that high school diploma, it doesn't necessarily mean she's ready to make the leap from one type of educational experience to the next. Here are some ways to assess for yourself what your child is ready for.

Time Management Skills: Studies have been done that show that children who are raised in a home environment that pays attention to schedules, clock time, and going to bed and waking up at regular times, do much better in college than students who come from a more disorganized environment. These are abilities most of take almost completely for granted, but in fact, they are the underpinning of every successful navigation through college.

Does she have strong time management skills? Is she on time to appointments, school, work, church, events she has planned ahead of time, and has shown up for consistently? This is an important skill, because once she's at college, success in the first semester will rely on her showing up for classes. To better prepare your child for this reality, be sure she does something that requires her to prove to you and herself that she has the ability to show up on time, consistently (things you have to nag her to do don't count!). She has to do this on her own, and even one type of activity counts.

How organized is he? Does he clean up his room (you're laughing, saying NO!), keep gas in his or your car, or take responsibility for something outside of himself, like a pet, a job, sports activities? Don't make excuses for kids and say because they're young, that means they can get away with a filty room; an inability to be organized, manage his time, and follow through on responsibilities is a strong sign that he's not ready for the daily grind of college. Once the novelty of being at school, away from parents wears off, your kid needs strong habits of self-discipline to continue going to class, going to the library, studying, etc.

Being organized at home is an excellent skill to help them develop. Show them how to be organized by insisting on some order, and getting them into the habit of some daily actiivty that requires discipline. This is why so many people get their kids involved in sports and extra-curricular activities. On the surface, it looks like a good use of their time, when in fact, they are learning organizational skills, like how to work within a hierarchy and a team.

Has she had a job? Even a summer job will help prepare her for the rigors of academia. This might not seem like an obvious link, from having a summer job to going to school in the fall, but in fact, having held a job consistently, receiving a paycheck, having to clock in, and doing labor of some kind that they can handle cheerfully in spite of how boring it is, are all excellent preparation for much of the tedium of scholarship.

Encourage your child to get at least one summer job prior to college. She needs to prove that she can get herself to work, since going to college is work, just of a different kind! And the ability to handle daily responsibilities and prove that she is capable of managing her time, is crucial to success at college.

© 2008 amgunn


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    • amgunn profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Seattle

      that's an excellent point, budwood, and in fact, is something I'm going to address later on in this entry! Thanks!

    • budwood profile image


      11 years ago from Southern Nevada

      Sometimes it may be better to consider alternatives. For example, my third son didn't want to go to college - in fact he didn't want to finish high school. So he got a job instead. After several years, he was the brother who was making the most money.

      So, from an economic basis, forget college unless you need a professional "ticket". If you want to explore classics or relive history, fine - go to college. But don't waste four productive years and build up a big college loan burden on any economic basis!

    • amgunn profile imageAUTHOR


      11 years ago from Seattle

      thank you glassvisage! the minute you have kids, you call me! we'll get them ready!! ;-))

    • glassvisage profile image


      11 years ago from Northern California

      Applying to college can be so stressful for both parents and children, but if they support each other, they'll be ok :) Good hub


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