8 Things I Wish My College Students and Their Parents Knew
by Cara Luecht
Besides being a mother, wife and author, I spend my days as an English instructor for a local community college. I enjoy this additional job, if for no other reason than it provides me the opportunity to watch the next round of 18-20 somethings as they make their first attempts at real world living.
Two of my four children are in this age group, so it is hard not to compare our kids to those who now occupy my days, and to consider where we have succeeded and where we faltered in our attempts at teaching them to compete in the outside world. You see, as an instructor, I witness the results of all of your parental struggles, of all your nagging about homework, all your worries, all your sleepless nights, all the whispered prayers as you dropped your little ones off at the doors of the school. I see this because the scruffy, trying-too-hard young adults who sit glassy-eyed on the first day of class are a collection of your efforts.
I don’t think, until I taught college, that I realized the power and the opportunity every parent has to shape their children into extraordinary people. Sure, the schools have influence, and their sports teams have leverage and their friends have pull, but it is you who I see come through in the essays that only I read.
I see your morals, your judgements, your work ethic. I see your expressions, your responses, your patience and your anticipation.
But the world has changed so fast, and I also see where as parents of college-age children, we were unprepared to equip our kids for this new environment where technology is king. And because of this, many of the students I see every semester—even those from seemingly loving homes—come to me unprepared for the rigors of college.
Technology rules their lives, and most of us have spent countless hours researching and nosing around, making sure we understand Snapchat and Instagram and Twitter and even the scarier sites like Tinder and the like. We want to be relevant, we want our children to know that we are not completely out of the loop, or, at the very least, we have the tools to spy (if necessary).
Unfortunately, all too often, the areas where my students falter and what affects their future success is not the misuse of the internet (although that does happen), or the bullying that takes place on Facebook, or any perceived Millennial Generation increase in narcissism. They do not stumble over finding friends any more than you or I did. This big, scary unknown factor of the internet is not the crippling factor in my student’s lives. Instead, what they struggle with are some of the life skills that have nothing to do with technology. We need to question if it is our own focus on technology that has cost our kids in other areas.
So, this is my encouragement to fellow parents, my efforts to say that you are still powerful, you are still essential, and you are needed now more than ever. This is my list of things we must not forget, the basic skills that many of my students from good, solid families with loving parents often lack.
What I wish my students and their parents knew:
- First impressions are more important than ever. There are no do-overs. And when your potential boss walks up to you to invite you to come in for an interview, and you are looking at your phone, rather than waiting to meet him or her, you have already made the mistake. And that is if you are lucky. Most first impressions now take place over social media. What does your Facebook page say about you?
- Technology should not be the go-to for human interactions. It is the tool we use when better methods are not available. Communication relies on context, it relies on non-verbal clues, and it relies on tone and vocal inflection. When you choose to send a text or an email, you are working with a serious handicap. If the message is important, then the method of communication should reflect it.
- Using all available means to succeed in your assignments makes you look self-aware and smart. If you struggle with writing essays, use the tutoring centers at the college. It does not make you look stupid! No one is good at everything, and visiting the writing center impresses your instructors because it tells us you care and you are a mature, hard worker who knows his own weaknesses.
- It is not your instructor’s/employer’s job to make your task easier. It is also not the parent’s job. If, as a parent, you find yourself tempted to “go to bat” for your college student, then you are probably not helping anything. In fact, even if you find yourself in this position for your high school student, then I ask you to please carefully consider if there is a way you can equip your child so he can do what you would have done. If he does not like a class, do you march into student services, or do you take the time to find out why, and then send a note with your child asking for him to have permission to leave class to talk to student services on his own? Your answer might determine if your college-age child works to make his deadlines, or instead offers excuses, thinking he always has a safety net. No matter how many times I say I will not accept late papers, it is nowhere near as powerful as that one time, in high school, when you didn’t email your child’s teacher and ask for a deadline extension.
- You can either learn from your mistakes, or you can become angry. It is that simple.
- Your excuses hurt you. Turn off Netflix, uninstall Facebook from your phone. As a parent, make sure your children do their homework first. In my own home, we follow the rule that there is no recreational use of electronic devices on school nights. That means no TV, no video games, no internet (unless for an assignment). Procrastination is epidemic with college-age kids. Teach them to work first, play later. (By the way, the added benefit of no TV during the week is that kids develop hobbies…too few students have hobbies anymore.)
- If you do not want to be in college, please don’t go…or at least give yourself some time. No one is in a race. Get a job. Live a little. Learn a trade. Right now, tradespeople make a great living building and working and doing things they love. Parents, do not force your children to go into debt for something they do not want to do because you didn’t take the opportunity to go to college when you had the chance. The world has changed. College is no longer an environment that is incompatible with jobs and families. I didn’t go back for my bachelor’s degree until I was 30 and had four kids. ASK your children if they WANT to go to college, and then listen.
- The final, and probably most important thing I wish my students understood, is that not everything has to make sense. Approach education with a desire to learn, not as a means to an end. While sitting in class, the people around you will have other opinions…reject the instinct to be offended, and instead find out why. You will read things you like and things you hate…discover what it is that inspires that reaction in you. If you come to college thinking that school is an obstacle to navigate, rather than an opportunity to grab hold of, then you will spend most of your time frustrated. Explore, discover what you love, let go of the “what are you going to be when you grow up?” mentality, and enjoy these few years where you can focus on becoming a better person, not just another disappointed cog in the machine.
Cara Luecht lives in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin with her husband, David, and their children. In addition to freelance writing and marketing, Cara works as an English Instructor for a local college. Cara graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Wisconsin and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Cara has three published novels: Soul Painter, Soul’s Prisoner and Gathered Waters.
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