Summer is almost over for many college students. Parents and kids have started shopping for dorm room essentials and decor. But there is a more important preparation that needs parents' attention. It is to equip your student to make good decisions while he is away at school.
The one thing he needs to make good decisions is not ready yet, nor will it be ready for a while. His frontal lobe. The frontal lobe in the brain is the area of the brain that helps us process the long-range effects of our actions. This area is not fully developed until between ages of 25-30. Your student still needs your guidance even though he believes to the contrary. He may think he is fully capable of making good decisions, but he will not give a thought to the future consequences. Now is the time, before your student leaves, to prepare her for the decision-making opportunities that await her.
Here are a few ideas to start your conversation:
- Explain the decisions and temptations they may face. This is a good time to share your stories from college or young adult life. It helps them to see you as a person and not just the parent. If you feel clueless about the current college scene, you may need to talk to an older college student, the parent of an older college student, or a recent college graduate for a better understanding of what your student will face.
- Talk about "what to do in case of." Talk about specific ways to handle situations in which there are circumstances they didn't anticipate (a party that got out of control, sexual harassment, need a ride because their ride is drunk, etc.)
- Remind them of what's at stake. Again you may need to research current culture, but unpack for them the consequences of their decisions. One picture from one crazy party that ends up on social media may do serious damage to his reputation and make landing a job difficult. A mom once shared with me that her teen's scholarship came with strict qualifiers. Knowing that one wrong decision could cause the loss of his scholarship helped him make better decisions.
- Let your child know what you won't fund and what you're not comfortable with. If she chooses to party and then sleep through class, your financial help, maybe even her car, could be at risk. Money or the lack thereof is a powerful motivator.
- Let their consequences be their consequences. After all your wise guidance, your child may still choose to make poor decisions—you can almost count on it. Let their consequences be their teacher.
- Remind them they can call home no matter what. Assurance that they can call you for help in any situation and you will not reign down judgment can be the difference between a lost relationship and a strengthened one. With this pledge, they know you will be there ASAP and they will never hear "I told you so." This guarantee of safety and love is the best thing you can promise them throughout their lives as you grow in adult relationship.
- Rest in your parenting history. The hard truth is that once your child is off to Party U there's little you can physically do. Take comfort that your words will run through your child's brain on a repeat track that can't be stopped.
- Pray and give them to God. When our kids were young it was easy to believe the fallacy that we were in control. However, when our kids grew into teens and young adults, the fallacy was stripped away by the harsh truth that we never had control to completely protect them. Our best and ultimate hope is in God and His care for our kids—which may include a little tough love.
It's essential for your child's independence that he make his own decisions. A couple of my kids shared with me they wish I had offered more advice and insights. The thing is—I did. They either don't remember or chose not to listen. They made decisions contrary to my advice. But you know what? By living out the consequences of their decisions they learned valuable life lessons that helped them make excellent decisions as adults. Everyone must go through their own process. Do your best as the parent and then trust God with your child's process. Don't miss this—you gotta show up as the parent and pour all you've got into your child, not in a helicopter parent sort of way, but in a I'm-preparing-you-to-fly-the-nest sort of way.
Remember you know your child better than anyone. Keep in touch and be alert to what he tells you, doesn't tell you, and his overall tone.
For more ideas on how to help your college student make good decisions while nurturing the relationship check out Brenda's book, Love No Matter What: When Your Kids Make Decisions You Don't Agree With.