Parents all over the United States are packing up their college-bound offspring and dropping them off on university campuses, hoping that they’re adequately prepared to navigate the adult situations and financial dilemmas they are sure to encounter. The first heady rush of unfettered freedom from parental supervision can be both thrilling and overwhelming. But can parents ever truly know whether their children are ready for these hurdles?
Preparation Doesn’t Start Overnight
Wise parents begin laying the groundwork early for rearing financially savvy and otherwise responsible teens. When kids are young, it’s far easier to instill good habits than it is to change bad behavior patterns later. But if you have been a bit lax in this area, it’s never too late to start. If you want your kids to develop healthy spending habits, realize that they model parental behavior to a large degree. Teach by example that saving a portion of one’s earnings for future purchases is how to avoid debt-free spending and that instant gratification can have a very high price tag — over-limit fees, NSF charges, low credit scores and other fiscal negatives.
In order for kids to learn the financial skills they need to thrive in a college environment, they need some experience managing small sums of money. Younger children can learn from managing a weekly or monthly allowance. Some parents prefer to tie their children’s allowance to chores, while others see the inherent value of an allowance to be the educational experience their kids get learning to make a series of trade-offs regarding their money and purchases versus entertainment and other experiences.
It’s Okay to Let Them Make Mistakes
Yes, you may inwardly cringe when you watch your kids blow a month’s allowance on the latest fad or virtual junk, but consider the learning experience they are getting from their mistakes. It’s far better to learn now the perils of blowing their savings and doing without for a month when they are still under your roof than eating ramen noodles in the dorm because they bought Lollapalooza tickets instead of a meal plan.
Encourage them to open a savings account and squirrel away 10 percent of their allowance. Later, if they earn a paycheck or money from part-time jobs like yardwork done for neighbors, they can add a percentage to their account. Parents can help them track interest on their monthly statements.
When the Stakes Are Even Higher
There are decisions that can have far worse repercussions than financial ones will for college students. Most of these are centered around choices regarding alcohol and drug use, including drinking and driving. Others may include those in the academic realm, such as making poor decisions to cheat on exams, plagiarize term papers or buy them online. These types of mistakes can unfortunately derail even the most promising of young lives, and in the worst-case scenarios, even potentially end them.
No parent want to ever contemplate thoughts of their children being in life-threatening circumstances, so it’s best to help kids develop the skills they need to resist peer pressure to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Parents should also remain realistic about the possibility that their kids may still go astray at some point. Clearly communicating parental expectations is fine, but mom and dad should remain stalwart sources of support when teens need it most. You always want to be your children’s first option when they seek assistance or answers.
When Paths Diverge
Parents may worry that when their children go off to college and get exposed to different philosophies and value systems that their moral compasses will radically shift. That may be true in some cases, but many go through phases of rebelliousness during the college years only to return later and espouse the same values and morals as the parents who reared them. Even when older teens take different ideological paths from their parents, if a strong connection of love and mutual respect has been forged to bridge the generation gap, parents can remain confident that they have equipped their kids with the skills they need to meet the challenges of university life and beyond.