College and the end game

I’ve had the privilege of working in the college setting for 17 years, so I’ve had a front row view of the hard work and successes of countless students.  From that vantage point, I’ve also witnessed what it looks like when parents haven’t quite gotten around to teaching their kids some valuable lessons before college.  What’s the worst effect?

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Students who don’t know how to recognize when they need help and then ask for it  

They encounter a challenge and don’t recognize quickly that there’s a problem.  Then, when they do realize there’s an issue, they don’t know how to even begin solving the problem.  They simply haven’t had to practice these skills.  Why?  Because their parents have been right there to pick up on any issues and solve them.

Full disclosure: Before I was a parent, I did NOT get this phenomenon.  I didn’t understand why parents were so involved all the way through high school and into college!  How did they not know to let their kids handle things for themselves, so they could learn??  Then…I became a mom.  I now have a whole new level of empathy with parents.  I get how hard it is to override that primal, protective instinct we have as parents.  Understand, however, that my message and my advice when working with students and their parents hasn’t changed.  I’m just more patient and have a bit of a softer touch with the families I meet.

A few weeks ago, we took our daughter to a store in the mall where she wanted to spend some of the money she had earned.  She very excitedly bought an inexpensive pen that was all sorts of sparkly rainbow colors.  A little while later we were eating lunch, and she decided to pull out this fantastic new thing and give it a try.  And then she realized the pen was broken.  We tried to fix it to no avail.  Of course, she was disappointed, but I explained to her that we could take it back to the store to exchange it for another pen.  As we were walking up to the storefront, I handed her the receipt and told her she just needed to go to the counter to ask for an exchange.  She reacted immediately with obvious trepidation, for this was something she’d never done.  (I’m pretty sure she told me no.)  So, I walked her through the steps of returning an item, such as explaining it to the clerk, providing the receipt, and asking for an exchange.  I also made sure she knew to try her new pen out before leaving the store, just to be sure it worked.  She was nervous, but she did it!

This incident by itself won’t change her life, but that one small lesson planted and grew within her the seeds of problem-solving, self-advocacy, and self-confidence.  (I also got the added mom-bonus of being super proud of her.)  This wasn’t the quickest, easiest way for me to get the pen exchanged and get out of the mall, but it gave my daughter something that will stay with her forever.

Whatever age your child is, remember the point of you that we talked about in our previous post.  Our job is to help our children develop into self-sufficient grown-ups.  There will be some bumps along the way, but that’s how kids learn.  (Heck, that’s how adults learn!)  That’s how children turn into successful college students and adults one day.  Intentionally look for ways to help your child recognize when they need help, and then coach them on how to advocate for themselves.  If we do this with patience and love, they will thrive because of it!

Now share your stories about how you’ve been able to teach these lessons to your kids.  We would love to hear from you in the comments!

About author


Lori Smith and Scott Smith are higher education professionals with a combined 30 years experience working with college students. We also happen to be married to one another and are raising our own potential future college student.

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