Sending Kids Off to College? 10 Tips to Help Prepare Your Freshmen for the World Ahead of Them

Sending Kids Off to College? 10 Tips to Help Prepare Your Freshmen for the World Ahead of Them
(Patience Lee for American Essence)

Just like the family of ducks in Robert McCloskey’s children’s classic “Make Way for Ducklings,” as parents, we “make way” for our children.

Yet the inevitable day will come when it’s time for our kids to graduate high school, head off to college, or move out on their own, and as parents, we’re left wondering: Have we done enough? Have we taught them what they need to know?

Kids may never possess “everything” they need to know, but when your ducklings leave the nest, here are 10 things that will help them navigate the waters of adulthood.

Understand Social Niceties Until they reach a certain age, we make way for our kids. We order for them at restaurants, make the introductions when they meet new people, and nudge them on the shoulder, saying, “Apologize to your brother.” In short, parents do a lot of the heavy lifting in social situations.

Exposing kids to a variety of social situations—formal, informal, professional, and relaxed—is a great way to introduce kids to the adult world. Do they know how to apologize sincerely when they’ve made a mistake? Can they look someone in the eye, introduce themselves, and shake hands? Are they adept at placing an order at a sit-down restaurant? The sooner they learn these basic social skills, the better off they’ll be.

Know How To Make Food When baby birds leave the nest, they quickly learn that no one supplies them with a nice juicy worm or succulent bug for dinner, and the same holds true for kids leaving home.

Young people need to know how to prepare food, not just order take-out meals or warm up TV dinners. Shopping for groceries and cooking together as a family help kids build their skills. All kids need at least a week’s worth of go-to, inexpensive meals they can make from scratch. To kick things up a notch and open the door to a lifetime of better eating, teach them how to read a recipe and tackle rudimentary cooking skills like chopping an onion or peeling potatoes.

Know How To Clean Up Unfortunately, homes and clothes don’t wash themselves, which means knowing how to clean a living space and do laundry is another important leaving-the-nest skill. Kids who don’t know how to load the dishwasher or do dishes by hand make terrible roommates. Same with kids who have never met a vacuum cleaner or a toilet scrub brush.

Understanding how to sort the laundry keeps white clothes staying white, and knowing when to use color-safe bleach keeps clothes from being ruined. Simple clothing repairs like sewing on buttons, repairing a hem, and knowing how to iron a pair of slacks and a dress shirt are also important skills for looking professional.

Be Able To Ask Questions As kids learn how to handle routine household tasks like cooking and cleaning up after themselves, they’re also learning another important adult skill: asking questions—even questions that may seem rather silly or appear to have an obvious answer.

The parents of teenagers know that getting kids to admit they don’t know something can be a struggle. Being unafraid to ask questions actually helps kids internalize the larger life lesson, which is that they really don’t know everything. None of us do.

Manage Time Moving out of the house to live in a residence hall or apartment can be a stressful transition, especially if during high school, mom and dad took care of wake-up calls, breakfast prep, and made sure all the projects and assignments were completed on time.

In order to succeed at college or in the workplace, kids need to be able to eliminate time-waster activities (TikTok videos, anyone?); organize a calendar, set goals, and create to-do lists; prioritize what’s important and eliminate what is not; and create daily routines that allow time to get all the tasks done and still have a work/life balance.

Manage Money Teaching money management skills to kids can be challenging, but with inflation on the rise, it’s more important than ever for kids to understand money and know how to manage it before they’re out on their own.

Begin when they’re small by showing them the value of material possessions, and help them save money of their own. (Pro tip: Use a clear jar to save loose change and paper money so they can see their money grow.) During middle school, help kids prioritize their purchases and show them that money is earned, not given. Encourage high schoolers to get part-time jobs, then assist them in setting up their own bank accounts, creating budgets, and assuming responsibility for paying for their own expenses.

Assess Someone’s Character Developing new friendships or romantic relationships outside the watchful gaze of parents can be exciting; however, poor character judgments may often lead to painful consequences. That’s why it’s so important to use the years during high school to help your burgeoning adult learn how to assess a person’s character.

Before a friendship or romance goes too far, consider these character-revealing situations. How do potential new friends or romantic partners treat the wait staff at restaurants or custodial staff in the residence halls? Do they get angry easily or often? Do they tend to show off or need to be the top dog in the group? Are they empathetic? Do they show signs of perseverance? Would you trust this person to hold $50 for you over a weekend?

Handle Getting Sick One of the surprising challenges kids experience after they’ve gone away to college or moved to their own apartment is what to do when they, inevitably, get sick for the first time away from home. Kids need to know how to take their temperature and know when a low-grade fever becomes a “you need to see a doctor” fever, when to stay home from school or work and when to tough it out.

Remind them to keep a box of saltine crackers, a can of chicken soup, and a few bottles of ginger ale or lemon/lime soda on hand. And of course, education in first aid and a well-stocked kit are always welcome during times of sickness or injury.

Personal Safety Personal safety is another essential part of being an adult. Late at night, on a dark sidewalk, a self-defense class suddenly seems at least as important as algebra. A basic self-defense class helps improve situational awareness and street smarts, as well as teaching basic skills to keep you alive if bad things happen.

Look for recommendations for a class in your area, but if there’s nothing suitable, check out virtual classes like “Understanding and Applying Self-Defense Strategies” by Tammy Yard-McCracken at The Great Courses.

Show Up Woody Allen famously said, “80 percent of success in life is showing up,” and while the number varies depending on who is doing the talking, the point remains: Just showing up is way more than half the battle.

Learn to exercise those “show up” muscles by participating in band or orchestra, theatrical productions, or joining a sports team. Then move up to a part-time job on the weekends or over the summers. Then, when it’s time to hold a full-time job, showing up to do the work is an ingrained response.

When it comes to teaching the skills of being an adult, a “start early and avoid the rush” philosophy is best because there’s time to work through problems as they arise, but if you have a young adult heading off into the world, even a quick crash course in being an adult can help them avoid the worst pitfalls.

And as they fly away to make their own way in the world, make sure they know that you’re always there to cheer them on.

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