I was raised by loving parents who trusted the “system.” Any system. Our governmental system, our legal system, our educational system. Someone was in charge. Many someones would lead me through the grades and I would reach the other side educated and ready for college. Right? Not exactly.
I struggled and was not as prepared as I needed to be. Today, Alabama colleges have a 50% dropout rate and only 25.9% graduate in four years as reported by The Chronical of Higher Education. After many decades of working with teenagers, I have learned that training children to take charge of their own lives provides them with the foundation necessary for a successful future.
“Be Proactive” is the first step in Stephen Covey’s book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The ideal time for transferring this act of personal responsibility begins around the age of 12. Children are moving into the logical stage of thinking and want to question everything. Having them take an active role in decisions which affect them on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis builds in them a sense of academic responsibility and ownership over their own lives.
Teens should create and manage a calendar system, coordinating events with other family members. They should be able and available to help with sibling activities. Physical responsibility is always yoked with fiscal responsibility; therefore, your children should also manage their own bank accounts and credit cards with supervision.
Keep in mind that the abilities and values that you want to instill in your child during the teen years are the same that colleges seek in scholarship applicants:
The best way to build educational ownership and prepare for college is to “Begin with the End in Mind,” which also happens to be Covey’s second step. Teach your children to set long-term goals. You could launch this effort by presenting your child with a journal.
The purpose should be to guide your offspring to create a life plan. By high school, children should have already developed good study habits, time management skills, and an ability to work independently with success.
The first step is to have your child record a list of life interests. What dream jobs come to mind? Research employers’ expectations in those fields. What level of college education is necessary? How much experience?
Next, look up entrance requirements together on a college website. Do they need a scholarship to attend, and if so what are the necessary GPA and ACT/SAT scores?
Have them search for core classes in majors supporting their interests. What will they need to accomplish in high school to obtain these objectives? In other words, instill in your child the understanding of what it takes to reach the desired goals.
Students should enter high school with an overall plan in mind. Should subjects be heavy in math and science or literature and history? Do they want to play sports? Study music? Learn a new skill? Be in a club? Will these activities support or undermine their goals? How many outside activities can they handle and still achieve their scholarly objectives?
Remember that at every step of the way, your children are answering these questions, not you. They are researching, taking notes, making decisions, and you are simply facilitating, encouraging, and supporting!
Continue to have these purpose-driven conversations with your child. Make these sessions a fun time to spend together. If you start when your children are young and you are light-hearted and positive, they will respond by wanting you to be involved in the process.
Living lives of excellence and integrity is rare. If you want your children to contribute, excel, and lead in our competitive world, you must mirror to them what that looks like. Remember that Proverbs says foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child. Don’t allow your children’s peers to influence them more than you do. Be proactive in your children’s lives and they in turn will become highly effective people.
For further information on training responsible, independent teens, read Mark Gregston’s article “Parents of Teens Must Adapt” in the April 2017 issue of Montgomery Parents. Find it at www.montgomeryparents.com under the Articles tab, then click on Parenting Today’s Teens.
Author’s bio: Lee Gonet is an avid learner, speaker, educator, and world traveler. She loves challenging teenagers to excel beyond what society considers possible by teaching young people to think deeply, learn intensely, and act purposefully outside the classroom box. For example, her daughter worked abroad by 16 and her son earned his Engineering Master’s by 20. Dreams do come true.