As my oldest child comes to the end of her sophomore year of college, I am finally able to come up for air and assess the damages (as well as the wins) of my pre-college/college parenting thus far. Though my husband and I both went to college, sending our first born off to school was quite a learning experience.
No matter how many people I talked to or how many books I read, it felt much like jumping into the deep end. And being as objective as I can be, I would give us a solid B- on how we handled things.
Based on my experience, I broke our report card into three core subjects which include medical, financial, and automotive. Though there are many crucial areas to parenting a child through the last few years of high school and into college, I felt these were specific places where I learned a lot, made some mistakes, and had a few small victories.
We tried to help our teens become knowledgable about medical, financial and automotive basics but our parent report card was not stellar. (Twenty20 @musiena)
Sometime when my oldest was in early high school, I began to engage less in discussions during doctor visits. In general, the primary care doctor and dermatologist had begun to speak directly to my child as she got older, so this seemed natural.
If questions were directed to me, I tried my best not to respond, but to wait for my child to answer. I took the opportunity to talk about possible questions or concerns with my child before and after visits and encouraged her to advocate for herself and always be honest with her doctor. And, when my daughter was a senior in high school I began to wait in the lobby during her well visits and vaccinations. I helped her complete her own online forms and scheduling and frequently encouraged her to call the doctor or nurse when she had a clinical question or concern.
Though I have been blessed with healthy children, I tried to take every opportunity to inform my child about over the counter medications including how to read a label, when to speak to a pharmacist, and when to call the nurse line. Along these lines, we talked often and early about birth control. I encouraged my daughters to always share birth control questions or concerns with their doctor as well.
When my child chose a college, we researched the medical resources on her campus. In her case, I learned that the system is largely overused and under supported. So, we found a large, local medical network that accepts our insurance and has many specialties. My daughter was able to create her online patient portal and allow us access for billing and to make insurance updates as needed.
I recently shared the free Web MD online symptom checker with my child and she told me about MedlinePlus. MedlinePlus is the largest medical library and part of the NIH. They provide free access to wellness information. I wish I had known about that one sooner! Parent Grade on Medical: A
Like many parents, we began to introduce basic money concepts to our children when they were in elementary school. By the time my daughters were in late middle school, they had their own debit cards and savings accounts which were funded by birthday money and odd jobs. Our bank, like most, offers a youth account which was free to open and did not require a minimum balance.
For our first child we insisted she put 20% into savings. We lowered this to 10% for our second child and later learned that 15% is the sweet spot. We maintained this standard as our children got part time jobs.
When my children reached high school, we began to require them to pay for more of their own expenses as they had part time jobs. This was a challenging situation and very different for each child. I learned that the amount of time a teen can devote to a job varies wildly depending on academic and extracurricular activities.
In hindsight, I believe we should have given our teens some specific bills to cover aside from gas and food. Paying a bill such as car insurance, car payment, or cell phone creates an experience in budgeting that is invaluable. By having our children pay for gas and “extras” they were able to go without to cover an expense. Which is not possible when an actual bill is due.
In the summer before my daughter’s freshman year of college, we had very honest conversations about college and its associated costs. In my private psychotherapy practice, I am always surprised at the number of my young clients who are headed to college with no understanding of how their parents will fund this or what this expense looks like.
We shared the way we will budget for a four year education as well as how we saved for this expense. Many college students will attend school on student loans. While this is an excellent way to fund a degree, college students will have to budget this money per semester.
We asked her to identify these “other” expenses such as clothing, eating out or concerts/ social events. And, we asked her to find an app she would use to track these expenses. We agreed to convene monthly and look at the allowance and expenses for my daughter’s freshman year. In her sophomore year, we reduced this allowance and encouraged her to get a job.
While these ideas were great in “theory”, my daughter does not use an app or budget tool and frequently gets to the end of the month with a zero balance. I wish we had instituted budgeting sooner as we could have influenced the use of the app when she was in high school.
Parent Grade on Finances: C+
Shortly after our daughters got their license, we began turning over basic car car duties. The first oil change presented a great opportunity to help our daughter understand what is involved in basic maintenance of her car. And, when the renewal came for my teen’s car registration, I walked her through this process and helped her understand how to do this in the future.
Shortly after moving to college, we helped our teen find a well ranked service department for oil changes as well as basic maintenance and tires. We also supplied her car with a safety kit and battery jumper.
Though I felt we did our best to involve our children in the care and maintenance of the car, we definitely failed to share some key concepts including the following.
By neglecting these items, we later had the opportunity to replace a wheel rim as my child drove a substantial speed and distance on a flat tire. By not stressing the importance of responding to a warning light, we later replaced several wires that a squirrel had eaten while building a winter nest in my daughter’s car.
Parent Grade on Automotive: C-
Though I still feel I am making mistakes on a daily basis and learning how to parent a college student, I do feel I am “passing” most days. No matter how much information I read or how many experts I talk to, I must remember that neither of my children came with an owner’s manual. And, if they did, I may have not realized where it was located until several warning lights were flashing. Which, though expensive, is a mistake I can learn from and course correct before my second child leaves for college.
More Great Reading:
The Legal Documents You Need When Your Child Turns 18
Here Are the 33 Life Skills Your Teen Needs to Know to “Adult”
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