Wasteful Spending: Kids in College Without These 4 Skills

He came into my office that Fall day wearing a flannel shirt and holding his cowboy hat in his hand. He sat down across from me and said “Howdy!” It was easy to guess how he might answer my question. “Where do you want to go to college?” I asked. “Texas A&M University, of course!” he said with a grin. I pulled out his high school transcript and saw that his grade point average through his junior year was a 3.0. “Uh oh,” I thought. “Maybe he has a strong SAT score.” I took a quick look and saw that his SAT score was average, about 1100. I shot him a quick smile and asked my next question. “What types of activities have you done during your time in high school?” He told me he played football for two years and since then he’s had a job at Domino’s Pizza. “Have you looked at the entrance requirements for Texas A&M?” I asked. “Well, not really,” he said. 

During my time as a high school counselor, I had many difficult conversations with students who thought they could get into the school of their dreams when in reality, it was a total longshot at best and in many instances really quite impossible. I always offered hope and an alternate path. “The good news is that there are many ways to get to where you want to go,” I’d tell them. I just couldn’t help but wonder if things would be different if the students knew earlier what it would actually take to make it happen.

Maybe you are the parent of a seventh grader or perhaps yours is a high school senior with only six months until liftoff. You may shudder to think about the day your kids will launch from your safe haven and set out to build a life of their own. I can relate. Two of my four have launched and I still have a high school senior and a freshman at home. No matter where your kids are in that range, the truth is that you should be thinking about their liftoff and preparing them now for flight. Grades and extracurriculars are not the only accomplishments that are important when it comes to being successful after high school. Organizational and time management skills along with being able to own their choices are life rafts for the launch-from-home transition. Without those skills being fully functional, your kids may be back on your doorstep in just a few months. 

Let me give you an example. Three of my friends and I had high school seniors that graduated in the top 10% of their classes of 800-1100 students. They all got acceptance letters and scholarships to Division I universities including Texas A&M, University of Houston and Texas Tech. After the first semester, one failed out, two were on academic probation and just one was academically successful, earning a 3.5. By the end of the second semester, the number that returned home grew to two. So, the result was that half of our group failed out. Half! That is higher than the national average of 30%. Why didn’t they succeed? First, they rarely managed their own time because their parents did it for them. Second, they did not know how to prioritize tasks because their parents did most of that for them too. Third, they didn’t know how to advocate for themselves because their parents always took care of it. And the last? They did not know how to struggle because their parents took over many of their struggles. In short, they did not learn to be self-sufficient. 

Help your kids prepare for liftoff by teaching them the following skills before they launch:

1. How to Manage Time Without Parental Direction

Even preschoolers can learn the basics of time management. Starting young will help kids to internalize the process so they’ll be set up for lifelong success. Teens must learn the dangers of procrastination. They might be able to wait until the last minute to finish an English paper or math project in high school, or turn it in late but that just simply is not the case in college. Teens who don’t learn to manage their time and train themselves to wait until the last possible minute to complete something are at risk of wasting their time (and maybe your education dollars)! They must learn to manage time without parents prodding them, or when it’s time for liftoff, they will never have the skills to remain in flight.

2. Prioritizing Tasks 

Being able to organize and prioritize tasks is a crucial life skill needed before liftoff. It takes planning to achieve anything of value. So, young adults must be able to organize a plan and carry it out alone. That is how you will know if they can do it when you are not there. They must be able to look at something they need to accomplish and identify benchmarks for what it will take to achieve it. In his book It Takes What It Takes, Trevor Moaway calls choosing not to plan “a plan around not planning.” He stresses that success is the product of making hard choices. Being able to see schoolwork as the priority over parties, movies, or other fun activities in college is the goal, and they’ll need practice before they get there.

3. Executing an Action Plan

Young adults need Commitment, Confidence, Concentration & Composure to execute their action plans. They must understand how to talk to themselves. “If” statements give the brain a way out and imply a choice, but “I” statements make commitments. For example, consider the power of “I WILL study and do well” versus “IF I study I will do well.” They need to know that “try” statements like “I’ll try to study” mean more than likely it won’t happen. If they understand the implications of these statements and how to use them in self-talk they will be able to envision where they are going and better execute a plan to get there. 

4. Self-Advocacy / Self-Care

Do your teens know how to advocate for themselves? When they get a grade they thought should have been better, do they have the courage to approach an adult to plead their case? Do they know how to write a formal email to a teacher? If they are doing the reaching out now instead of you, they will learn how to advocate for themselves. In addition, do they know what to do if they start to feel overwhelmed by or buried under the weight of their school load? My daughter Olivia had a roommate that froze when she felt overwhelmed. Instead of reaching out to ask for help, she hid in her room and counted down the days until she told her parents she was failing all her classes. Needless to say, it was too late to recover when she finally reached out.

It’s great to have our “nests” full. Watching our kids grow, develop and achieve is tremendously rewarding, but the day will come when they must lift off. We want them to feel confident in their ability to manage life on their own, not coming back home to live. Teaching children the above skills will ensure that when it is their time to launch, they are ready to soar! 

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