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Today's Family Magazine

Preparing your young teen for college... and beyond

By Rebecca Hastings

My son looked at me with dread in his eyes. He needed to find out about driver’s education classes, and there was minimal information on the website. I smiled and told him he needed to call them.  As he held the phone in his hand, he wasn’t sure what to do, what to say, or what to ask.  He didn’t want to make the call, but I knew he needed to.

As kids approach adulthood, there are things you can do to help them feel prepared and confident.  From simple things like making a phone call to more complex skills like financial planning, you can help your child feel ready for college and more.

Here are 10 helpful things to teach your child:


Cook simple meals: Yes, they will probably have a meal plan if they go away to college.  But knowing how to make a few meals will help them far beyond their college years.  Spend time including them in food preparation.  Teach them how to follow a recipe, measure, and prep ingredients.

Transfer healthcare: While you have been responsible for every aspect of their healthcare, they need to learn how to navigate their health.  Let them make appointments, handle check-in, and share insurance information.  Give them a chance to answer questions at doctor’s appointments before you give any input and be sure to give them one on one time with the doctor.  Letting go of the control in this area can feel hard, but they must learn how to do this.  The more you equip them to handle these things the easier it will be when they get sick and are away from home.

Run errands: Things that seem simple to us can be challenging for teens because they haven’t done them before.  Give them a chance to run errands like going to the grocery store or pumping gas so they learn how to do these things on their own.  Even having them take the car in for an oil change or bring the dog to the groomer so they learn how to interact with service providers independently is helpful to prepare them for college and adulthood.

Self-care: This isn’t about relaxing or taking time for yourself, although that is a helpful thing to model and teach.  This is about teaching your child how to take care of things like hygiene, laundry, making a bed, wiping down counters, cleaning out the fridge, getting rest and exercise, and even managing time.  While it is nice to do these things for them sometimes, make that the exception.  In life, it is not typical for someone else to handle these things.  Teach them how to do it now and they will be much better off down the road.


Open a bank account: Help your child open their bank account.  If they are under eighteen, you will need to be on the account with them but many banks offer student accounts that can be opened as young as fifteen and used until their early to mid-twenties.  Be sure to get an account with a debit card and teach them how it works as well as how to monitor their spending.

Pay bills: Kids need to learn how to pay bills on time. Even if they don’t have any official bills, you can start teaching them to contribute to their expenses such as cell phone or car insurance bills on a certain day each month.

Plan spending and saving: Have regular conversations about how to plan their spending. Budgeting can sound too intense for many teens, so asking questions to get them thinking about upcoming expenses or savings.  For example, “I saw that the fair is coming.  How much do you plan on spending when you go with your friends?” or “I know you’re hoping to get a computer before college starts. How much do you need to save each month to make that happen?” will help your child think ahead about how to best use their money.


Talk about plans: Have regular conversations about what options are available to your child.  If they are going to college, make them part of the process and help them understand the financing.  Whether you are paying for school, they are paying for school or they are utilizing aid, clear communication is essential so they know what they are responsible for now and in the future.

Prepare documents: College requires a lot of documents.  From resumes to applications, essays to scheduling, there are a lot of things to fill out.  Let your child fill them out.  Yes, you can answer questions.  But help them take responsibility for their learning by handling this process.  There can be a lot of questions and discussions that need to happen for them to do this.  Consider setting aside a weekly time to answer any questions they may have so you both have the time and attention you need for the tasks to be done.

Pay attention to deadlines: The college application process is full of deadlines.  Taking tests, sending transcripts, completing admissions and financial applications, and sending deposits all have very specific deadlines.  Discuss these with your child and expect them to meet these deadlines.  It is helpful to talk about upcoming deadlines together and even ask them to plan time to complete the tasks.  Visual and digital reminders will help them stay on track so they meet any upcoming deadlines.

If you give them the opportunity to do these things now when you are available to help if needed, they will feel ready and better equipped to do these things on their own.