4 Crucial Topics to Discuss Before You Child Leaves for College
Who’s going to pay for what?
Will your daughter or son receive a weekly or monthly allowance? What expenses should be covered by their allowance? Do they need a grocery budget? Will you pay for their gas to travel back and forth from home to school? Haircuts? Toiletries? Cell phone bills? Meals off campus?
Settle money decisions in advance, but agree to make needed adjustments regularly.
[Laura: You can help make a budget for college with your student using the Paying for College Spreadsheet.]
How often will you call and text each other?
During our son’s first week at school, he suggested we agree on a day and time each week to catch up via phone. He decided Sunday evenings worked best for his schedule. If either of us can’t make that day or time work, we reschedule for as soon as possible.
One of my friends has implemented a “Proof of Life” requirement for her boys. They know when mom texts “POL” they must quickly respond with a photo of themselves. It gives her peace of mind to see their smiling faces and helps them to be aware that they haven’t been in touch recently. They often send POL photos without prompting even recently surprising their mom that the older was visiting his brother at his campus. They’ve all found a way to have fun with it while honoring their parents’ request.
Take into account your child’s personality. You may hear from your child multiple times a day or hardly at all. Trust that they will reach out when they need you and don’t hesitate to let them know you’re praying for them.
What skills do they need to master before they leave?
Laundry tops the list of skills your child needs to master before they leave the nest. Our oldest had been doing his laundry for several years, but machines with different settings and different capacities can trip them up. If you can remember, try to take a look at their washer and dryer before you leave campus and take a quick photo so you’ll be able to direct them if questions come up. Teach them how to iron, too, as there are events they may choose to attend that require pressed pants or dress shirts.
Even if your son or daughter is on the unlimited dining plan, basic cooking skills come in handy. Arm them with knowledge about what can and can’t be used or cooked in the microwave (no metal or aluminum foil!). Can they boil an egg or a pot of water for spaghetti? We tend to overlook such things as greasing pans, tell-tale signs of ripe fruit, expiration dates, and how to handle raw meat.
If your child is taking their car to campus review or teach them how to check the air pressure on their tire, change a flat, and jump their car battery. A first aid kit, jumper cables, and a tire pressure gauge make great graduation gifts!
Drinking, dating, and other legal issues
Is your child prepared to navigate social and ethical issues that arise?
While it’s tempting to launch the conversation with a stern lecture on what is and isn’t acceptable by law and in your family, questions make much better conversation starters. Ask your son or daughter how they plan to handle different circumstances and situations. What would they do if they were asked to ride in a car with someone who has been drinking or were offered a drink at a party even though they are underage? How might they respond to unwanted sexual advances or deal with being stranded without a ride?
While we cannot force our children to honor our household rules or even the laws of the land, they need to know where we stand and what is right. Their safety is our number one priority no matter what choices they’ve made, and they need to know they can call if they are in trouble. Unconditional love is not without appropriate consequences at the appropriate time.
Help your daughter or son to devise an exit strategy. While we pray they don’t find themselves in a situation that requires an immediate or necessary exit, having a plan in place will allow them to exit quickly and successfully. Some families have implemented the “x” text plan in which the daughter or son texts their parent an “x” and they immediately respond with an “emergency” phone call that requires they leave immediately. In college, I found myself in a potentially dangerous situation in downtown Nashville over spring break. Suddenly realizing I was in over my head, I faked an upset stomach and escaped to safety.
Your bird is already anxious to spread their wings and leave the nest and may think they know it all, but you have the wisdom of experience that can be shared in a compassionate and caring manner that may help smooth their flight. May God guide your conversations and preparations.
Cyndee Ownbey is grateful to God for strengthening her faith and prayer life during these sometimes tumultuous college years. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband and their younger son, a high school junior. Their oldest son will be entering his senior year of college in the fall. Cyndee is a speaker, writer, and encourager for women’s ministry leaders at her site Women’s Ministry Toolbox.