The College Conversation: Prepare your kids for independent living

Editor's note: Lisa McLaughlin's colleague Ellen Gaddie, the mother of a University of Oregon sophomore, wrote this week's The College Conversation.

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Parents worry. It's what we do.

We're pretty good at it, actually. But for parents of college-bound children, we might even worry more about whether our children are really ready to go away to college — without us.

Students worry, too. They worry about whether they'll fit in and make friends in college, or at least get along with their roommate. And they worry about whether they'll be able to handle the independence of college life — without us.

From my own experience, the senior year (including the summer following graduation) is the time to help your teen make the transition from dependent high school student to independent college student with a few simple changes.

First, stop keeping their calendar, handling their money and doing their laundry; these are life skills the majority of 16- to 18-year-olds can — and should — handle themselves. Have them call the doctor and make other appointments; they'll need to know how to negotiate the student health center if they get sick at school.

Set them up with their own banking accounts and review the fine art of balancing a checkbook with them. If you're still doing their laundry for family efficiency sake, don't wait until the last minute to explain the importance of separating lights and darks lest their first load of wash in the dorms turns an odd color of gray.

And, if you're the parent of a soon-to-be high school senior, fight the desire to constantly check their grades on their school portal. They can — and should — be able to manage their assignments by now.

Second, make sure your 24/7 connected-teen understands that technology is not fail-proof. Ignore their rolling eyes as you calmly explain that email systems can go down, so they shouldn't rely on sending a paper, at the last minute, to their professor (or high school teacher). Remind them that computers, including the handy phone device they use more for texting than talking can get lost, stolen, broken or just plain quit working.

Teachers and professors have heard a myriad of excuses from the dog eating the term paper to printer machines going on the fritz for why a project is late. Persuade your teen to build their own contingency plan that does not include mom or dad pulling out all the stops, either at home or via Skype, to their dorm room, to solve their technology dilemmas.

Third, and most important, assure them that you will always "be there" for them with a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen and rejoice when something "sick" happens to them (author's note: sick = cool) but you won't always show up with a broom and dustpan to clean up their messes.

In short, explain to them that you are officially stepping back and allowing them to take over the running of their own lives. For parents of high school seniors, agree on a set time to have your teen review their calendar plans against the master family calendar, so activities don't get overlooked and to ensure your teen isn't over scheduled. Then, step back, observe and offer help when asked, or when you deem it necessary.

Allow your child to begin sampling the rights, responsibilities, and freedoms that will soon be theirs in college — while they are still living under your roof and your rules. After all, you don't want your offspring calling late one night crying tears to rival Niagara Falls because they can't negotiate independent living. Do you?

ELLEN GADDIE has a bachelor's in journalism radio/TV broadcasting from San Jose State University with a minor in marketing. She works at EDvantage College Consulting. Send questions and comments to Ellen@EDvantageConsulting.com.

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