Q: [Teens] I can’t believe the start of senior year has arrived. It seems like it came so quickly — I’m not sure who is less ready, our son or us! How do we know if he can be successful out in the world?
A: One of the most important things to remember about raising children is that you’re not raising children. You’re raising adults. As high-school seniors decide where to attend college, parents are starting to realize that all their hovering and hand-holding may have done their teens a disservice. Can your kid manage their time effectively? Do their own laundry? Balance their own checkbook? If not, now is the time to give your young adult the foundational skills they need to leave the nest.
College can prove incredibly stressful. Too often I have seen parents bring a kid home after one semester because their young adult, who had never been held accountable for his behavior or never had to manage his time, stalled out in the chaotic world of college.
To avoid this, begin to widen your boundaries for your kids in the middle of high school. Slowly get your kids to take responsibility for getting themselves up for school, finishing their homework, doing their own laundry, scheduling their own appointments and getting to them on time. You learn so much more from your mistakes than your successes, and it is far better to make those mistakes now.
Backing off also serves as a litmus test to see how ready your child is for real life. Chronic substance abuse, ditching classes, academic underperformance and issues with authority are red flags that your child might not be ready to handle the responsibilities of college life. If you see warning signs, remember that just because a college has given your child the green light, doesn’t mean you have to. Some parents elect not to send their senior to a four-year university to let them “incubate” at a junior college before leaving home because they’re just not ready. College is a significant financial investment, and you want to get the best return on that investment.
Once they have left, it’s up to you to keep that helicopter grounded. If you Skype or FaceTime once a week, you can get a good visual assessment of your kid without overwhelming them with calls and texts that don’t give them the room to grow. Remember, the point of all those diaper changes and soccer games was to create a well-rounded, responsible citizen of the world.
Dr. Jerry Weichman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and adolescent specialist at Hoag Hospital. He enjoys helping teens get ready for the next steps in life, as well as counseling their parents in the best ways to help that process.