Your high school senior may have completed the barrage of college entrance examinations, applications, and college visits; however, how do you know if your teen is really equipped with the independence and maturity to successfully navigate life on a college campus? Many students will move away to attend college, perhaps out of state. Parents will not be able to easily check in to see if they made it to class, are studying for exams, completing assignments, or socializing with peers. Up to this point, much of the focus through high school has been based on academic skills, and grades allow us to determine success and mastery of academic concepts. What about independent living skills? How do you measure those? You may be questioning your child's level of autonomy, but unsure of how to assess their needs. Here is a checklist of areas to consider when evaluating your student's level of independence, and where to focus your attention during senior year.
Self Care and Responsibility. Can your child seek health care or assistance when feeling ill or injured? Can they manage their own medication regimen? Allow your student to take charge of their own prescriptions, and teach them about dosing for non-prescription, over-the-counter medications. Are they able to make healthy choices regarding drugs and alcohol? Do they understand the risks associated with substance use? Can they stay safe from harm or crime? Encourage them to travel in groups with other students, especially at night, and inform others of their whereabouts. Have your student practice tasks such as keeping their room tidy, doing their own laundry, managing computer and Internet glitches, and performing basic car maintenance, such as checking tire pressure or responding to a "check engine" light. Allow them to use public transportation to attend outings with friends. Establish good routines for sleep, nutrition and physical activity. Be sure your child can prepare a meal and manage personal hygiene.
Financial Management. Some students may have worked a part-time job during high school and gained some experience with money management. If your has not, it is a good time to establish a student checking account and teach your child how to access money using an ATM and various banking Apps. College students will need to know how to manage the cost of books and school supplies and set a budget for expenses, such as food purchases, while living on campus. You may enlist your student to participate in filling out financial aid applications to provide a sense of ownership and increased awareness of the expenses associated with a college education.
Emotionality. Can your student manage their emotions when they are hurt, upset, sad, or anxious? It will be important that students learn to accept critical feedback from professors, as well as tolerate inconsiderate behavior from fellow students. In addition, your child will be expected to assert themselves when advocating for services or assistance on campus. Now is the time to foster functional emotion regulation and stress management strategies to cope with distressing situations. Work with your teen to identify ways to self-soothe and decompress when feeling overwhelmed.
Time Management. Successful students have a solid time management strategy. It is important that students learn how to manage their schedule independently. They should be able to wake themselves for class, manage appointments in a calendar, and be mindful of important due dates. If your teen is adverse to paper planners or is apt to lose one, consider Apps specifically targeted to students for scheduling and homework.
Academics. It comes as no surprise that students will be more successful in college if they are equipped with good study skills. They should be able to follow through on assignments, papers, and projects without parental prompting and support. In addition, students should learn to compose and respond appropriately to emails from professors and identify strategies to stay focused on tasks, even when distractions are present. Oh, and they need to read.
Social Relationships. Your child will have a more positive college experience and be more resilient to homesickness if they are able to connect socially on campus. Students with social anxiety will benefit from practicing ways to initiate social activities and personal connections with others. This is a good time to practice introducing yourself and participating in small talk. Some students may need to work on managing differences in opinions, beliefs, lifestyles, and personal taste in a tactful manner. Social problem solving skills will be beneficial when your child encounters a roommate dispute or other social conflict. It is also important learn how to balance family, friends, leisure time, and responsibilities.
If your student falls short in some of these areas, now is the time to explore options to foster skill development. Many of these tasks can be implemented at home and with the support of your student's educational team. If possible, a part-time job or volunteer work during high school are beneficial ways to address increased responsibility in multiple areas. Clubs and extracurricular activities can aid in these areas as well. However, if you have attempted some of these tactics and your child continues to struggle with independence and decision making, a behavior specialist can help. Konick and Associates has therapists with expertise in college transition planning who can provide an independence assessment and provide support in building these skills. Contact us for more information.