As your children prepare to head out on their own, bless them with some good conversations to prepare them for the road ahead. Before they fly the nest, take a few moments to prepare them for flight. Some great discussions can help your child get a glimpse around the corner and hopefully hit the ground of their college campus more prepared. Pick one topic at a time and make a date of discussing these things over ice-cream. The goal is to start the discussion and empower your child to take the lead in building their plan toward independence.
These are meant to be discussion topics, not lecture points, keeping in mind that you are handing your child the responsibility of managing these things and stepping into a consulting or advisory role. Feel free to offer insights, but let your child think their way through how they will manage things. They can always consult you on any of these concerns and hopefully these topics will be integrated into your ongoing discussions throughout their college career.
- Studies: Academics is supposed to be the main focus of the college experience. So how might you structure your time to prioritize your academics? Consider finding a study partner in classes that seem challenging. It never hurts to have a friend with whom to share notes or study for an exam. Where are quiet places you can go to study? Consider how you will manage study time with your roommate. How will you set boundaries around study time to keep it from being swallowed by social time? What social and extracurricular activities are you willing to give up to keep your grades front and center? What academic support is available if you have challenges? When should you consult your academic advisor?
- Social: What approach will you take for making friends? How can you be a good friend? How will you handle challenges with roommates? What activities would you consider trying to stretch yourself and make connections? How will you choose your friendships? How can relationships help you grow in faith or be challenging to your faith? How much contact do you want to have with previous friends? How often do you want contact from family?
- Spirituality: Don’t put your spiritual life on hold while you pursue academics--you will need the strength of your faith to weather various challenges. Consider how you will foster spiritual growth in your life. What Bible Study and church services are available to keep you growing in faith? There is great blessing to be found in God’s word. Consider learning a new scripture each week to strengthen and encourage you. How will you structure your time to make talking with God a priority? What about texting a prayer request regularly to your family to take before God’s throne? Or subscribing to a daily devotional?
- State of health: College dorms are pretty much a Petri dish of diseases and college life tends to run down the immune system. Staying healthy requires good habits. How will insure you get enough rest? How will you taking care of yourself nutritionally? What are your plans for getting exercise? What happens when you get sick? How will you handle medication refills or reordering contact lenses? What happens if you need to see a dentist or doctor? How does the insurance plan work? How would you cope with a roommate having a serious illness such as an eating disorder? And please never eat food without first washing your hands or using the hand sanitizer, really, you will thank me later!
- Sanity: School brings a host of different stressors. How will you care for yourself emotionally? What are your biggest concerns about college life? Talking with a friend, getting rest, or getting some exercise are great first responses to stress, but what if you start feeling overwhelmed? How will you manage stress to avoid burn out? Most college campuses offer free or cheap counseling so consider when you might consider taking advantage of that resource. A bad break up, or failing a class, or just needing a listening ear are great reasons to utilize these resources. We all need some life coaching now and again, consider the benefit from seeing a counselor just to process life. How would you help a friend who seems depressed? How might you direct a friend to use counseling resources?
- Serving: College can be a me-focused time, but it is not how God called us to live. How might you find ways to care for others beyond yourself? How are you caring for others? Consider your gifting and consider ways to use your gifts for God's kingdom. What might God be calling you to do?
- Specialty: Many start college as undecided, but hopefully we leave with a focus in some specialty. What areas of study gets you excited? What gifts do you see God developing in your life? If your career counseling center offers testing to help narrow your focus, plan a visit to their office to explore your options. What career paths interest you? What are the next steps on that path? Choose an academic advisor or mentor to help you explore some possibilities. What internship opportunities or trade organizations should you pursue to move you along down that path as you near graduation?
- Savings: College can be an expensive proposition. How are you planning to manage your finances? How will you go about finding student employment? How many work hours do you need to keep you in cash to cover your expenses? Are you being careful not to take on more student loans than you can repay? How can you be a good steward of your financial resources? What does your budget look like?
- Significant other: College is often the time when we meet our future spouse. What qualities will you look for in those that you chose to date? How will you honor God in your physical relationship? When you sense it's not working out, will you have the courage to call it off?
Many adventures await our children as they step into college life. Hopefully these ongoing conversations can help guide parents and prepare students to make a healthy transition into this new phase of life in God’s kingdom. Review each of them every summer. Our children may leave our home, but they will never leave our hearts. God feels the same way and he will continue to watch over our children and guide their journey no matter where they go. Trust that our God who loves our children best will hold them close through whatever lies ahead.