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 time 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 coffee, breakfast, or 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. Keep in mind that you are handing your child the responsibility of managing these things for themselves, while you step 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.
Academic work 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?
Friends and social activities are another major focus of the college experience. Friendships we form in college often last a lifetime and can significantly influence academic success. 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 can relationships help you grow in faith or be challenging to your faith? How much contact do you want to have with friends from home? How often do you want contact from family?
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 studies 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?
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 you insure you get enough rest? How will you take 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 our 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 hand sanitizer—really, you will thank me later!
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 burnout? Most college campuses offer free or cheap counseling, so consider when you should take advantage of that resource. A bad break up, 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?
College can be a me-focused time, but that is not how God calls us to live. How might you find ways to care for others beyond yourself? Consider your gifting and explore ways to use your gifts for God’s kingdom. What might God be calling you to do?
Many start college undecided about a major, but there comes a point when it’s important to focus on some specialty. What gifts do you see God developing in your life? What areas of study gets you excited? What career paths interest you? What are the next steps on that path? If your career counseling center offers testing to help narrow your focus, plan a visit to their office to explore your options. Choose an academic advisor or mentor to help you explore some possibilities.
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? How can you be a good steward of your financial resources? What does your budget look like?
College is often the time when we meet our future spouse. What qualities will you look for in those that you choose 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.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Deb Koster