Article Feb 26, 2014

Preparing Your Teens for College

The following is an excerpt from Preparing Your Teens for College: Faith, Friends, Finances, and Much More by Alex Chediak. 

In the time since you and I have embarked on our adult lives, the challenges surrounding college education have dramatically increased. More people are going to college than ever before, it costs a fortune, we’re borrowing crazy amounts of money to go, and the newer graduates are competing with experienced candidates for precious few job openings. And high school graduates have also changed. Just as Gen Xers are different from Boomers, teens today are in a whole new category.

Lots of freshmen haven’t gotten the memo that college is a lot of work. They seem to think it’s an expensive vacation funded by you (along with student loans). Roughly one out of four freshmen does not make it to their sophomore year, usually due to immaturity or lack of focus. Other students get by, but never really grasp the purpose of the academic enterprise—they don’t become lifelong learners; clear-headed thinkers; well-rounded, flexible, honest, hardworking, self-starting, responsible, mature, humble men and women. They never develop strong communication, problem-solving, or people skills—the very qualities employers are looking for. Moreover, these traits equip us to love and honor God with all our minds and to do good works in the marketplace, in the laboratory, in the library, in the classroom, in the hospital, in the law courts, on the mission field, or wherever God leads us.

Many teens today are more dependent on their parents than we were at their age. They’re more distracted by media and technology. They’re less willing to discipline themselves and work hard. And they expect success to come more easily than is realistic. In a survey of more than 2,000 high school seniors in the Chicago area, sociologist James Rosenbaum found that almost half of them (46 percent) agreed with the statement “Even if I do not work hard in high school, I can still make my future plans come true.”

Yet studies have shown—ironically—that overconfidence leads to underperformance. Those whose self-esteem is more reinforced, apart from objective accomplishment, exhibit declining performance over time and are most likely to quit. It makes sense. If you think you’re better at something than you really are, you expect it to come easily. This makes you less likely to work at it, less likely to succeed, and more likely to be surprised and disappointed when you don't. As a professor, I have seen this happen many times.

I’m happy to say that some students are well prepared, get over the inevitable hurdles, and come out on the other side just fine. Others who start off poorly respond well to correction. They learn their lesson and graduate with a high degree of maturity and skill.

Training matters. Not just what we professors do on campus but what you do before your teens ever get to us. Thriving at college begins in the home. What you model and impart to your teens, day in and day out, makes a huge difference.

I’ve seen this play out countless times in the lives of my students, for good and for ill. Some students from churched backgrounds leave the faith while at college, either temporarily or permanently. Many fail to adjust to the rigors of college-level academics—even some of our most gifted students. And beyond academics, “failure to launch” is not uncommon—students preferring to linger in the no-man’s-land of adolescence rather than complete the journey to full-orbed adulthood.

Each of these topics is the subject of countless books in recent years. And while there may be disagreement on the best remedies for spiritually apostate, professionally wandering, or developmentally stunted twentysomethings, there’s strong agreement on what can mitigate these ailments: godly, involved parents who intentionally and wisely invest in their children, in word and deed, at all stages, but particularly in the teen years. There’s no doubt about it—what you and I do as parents, before our teens leave home, has the greatest likelihood of preventing these kinds of decline.

Shepherding your children in the direction of responsible Christian living in every sphere of life prepares them for the tests of post–high school life like nothing else can. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth” (Psalm 127:4)—to be released with care and intentionality into the world to find their mark for the glory of God and to become mighty change agents for the good of others.

So Preparing Your Teens for College is for you. When I get to know college freshmen, I recognize that the worldview and character they bring to college are the result of 18 or 19 years of living with their parents. Their worldview (how they think) and their character (who they are) impact their attitude (what they think) and behavior (what they do). Their attitude and behavior, in turn, give rise to their habits and their destiny, as they (like we) reap what they sow (see Galatians 6:7).

And all of this is true whether your children become medical doctors or ultrasound technicians, engineers or electricians, businesspeople or beauticians. A four-year college is but one of several possible launching pads into a responsible, fruitful life.

Learn more about Preparing Your Teens for College, and read more from the Introduction, on Alex’s website.

Copyright 2014 by Alex Chediak. Used with permission from Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.