For the past several months I have been consulting with parents about their child’s overall readiness for college. This is now a thing- an unofficial set of criteria to determine your child’s preparedness to be independent, out of the home and ready for much greater responsibility. I will share what we have been working on the past 9 months so that these high school seniors can succeed on their own as they become freshman- again- in college and in life.

What is college readiness and is my kid really ready?

In early September I received a call from a mom who said she couldn’t believe it but her daughter was a high school senior with good grades, strong standardized test scores and school tours already under her belt. The mom shared that, on paper, her daughter looks great, but that at home her behaviors can sometimes tell a different story. She was messy, sometimes forgetful, sometimes late for curfew, was likely drinking and partying on weekends, and a couple of other things that she thought her daughter was, at times, engaging in.

I think to myself, nothing too crazy, sounds like a fairly typical teenager…

Mom didn’t want me to necessarily see her child, she wanted support and guidance for herself during this new parenting stage and I was more than up for the task. Her child didn’t seem like she needed intervention and I wanted her mom to feel confident as a parent and in her decision making- she was the expert on her child.

Michelle was eager to get started, she wondered where we should start- so here was our road map that led us where we are today (4 weeks from graduation)!

First, we defined college readiness. We agreed on the definition that academically, socially and emotionally her child would be ready for greater independence and responsibility in a higher education environment. Michelle felt good about this “whole child” approach. This is how we worked on each of these areas over the year:

Academic - we were clear that she was on track to graduate at the start of the year and worked with her on identifying areas of interests that she could pursue as a major. Like many high school seniors she was unsure of what she wanted to major in. When I first started talking to Michelle this was a point of frustration for her- she didn’t want to “waste time or money” on her daughter not knowing what she wanted to be when she grew up. I assured Michelle that it was okay to not be sure about her major and that her first year she could take pre-requisite classes. However, we did help her daughter marrow down some interests- she identified education, psychology or marketing. Success!

Responsibility - in October, Michelle’s daughter decided that she wanted to take the ACT exam once more. She wanted to see if she could get a higher score to apply to more competitive schools. Michelle and I discussed that her daughter would take the prep classes independently, that she would create a system for tracking deadlines, application dates, essays, her recommendations and all those other details that go along with applying to ten schools. At first, this was hard for Michelle but we set up the stipulation that if her daughter asked for help she would help her but that mom would not manage the process. Once again, her daughter was on top of things and for the most part did it on her own- success!

Socially - this area had a broad and wide reaching definition. This meant everything from asking others for letters of recommendation to handling the partying on the weekends. This meant making sure that her daughter could speak to adults and peers (in person, not via text or a social app), it also meant that she balanced going out with staying in and alternating going out with with friends with date nights at the movies with her boyfriend. Further, it included family time- spending time with her family and siblings and when home not constantly hooked to a device. Michelle and I processed the issue that children of this generation were raised on technology and devices and once they reach college can experience loneliness and social media won’t help. So, we wanted to be sure she valued the people in her life and that she knew how to sustain relationships.

Emotionally - there are several definitions of this key concept, I decided to go with “the ability to understand and manage your own emotions.” Adolescents are not known to understand and manage their emotions very well or consistently. So, what we set as the expectation was that this was going to be a conscious work in progress. This meant that when her daughter got upset about something she would stop, breathe, think then respond. We had her practice responsiveness rather than reactivity. Her mom asked her to journal several times a week and also worked on her own communication skills. By about March we could tell that this was helping them both- so it took some time and a lot of repetitions but we are hopeful that it has been a useful practice into launching her into a young adult equipped to handle the many emotions that are to come.

Through this senior year, Michelle’s daughter gradually earned more freedom, more responsibility, money management skills, time management skills and had to maintain a part time job. While at times she took a two steps forward and one step back, she did as well as could be expected and was able to assess her own readiness in a fair and responsible way.

For those reading this who may not have done this but have a graduating senior- it’s not too late! Apply these principals to your child’s summer. Track your child throughout the semesters and help set them up for success by being clear around rules, boundaries and expectations, consequences. Happy Parenting!

About the author

Sheryl Gonzalez Ziegler, Psy.D. holds a Doctorate of Psychology, is an Author, Speaker, National Media Contributor, Non-Profit Board Member, Girl Scouts Leader, Girls on the Run Coach and Advocate for children. She has been treating children and families for over twenty years with areas of expertise in anxiety, trauma, divorce, stress management and depression. Dr. Ziegler is the author of the best selling book, Mommy Burnout: how to reclaim your life and raise healthier children in the process, the winner of Best Parenting Book of 2018 as awarded by International Latino Book Awards.

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