Confronting the Dreaded “Real World”
How can you make sure your student is ready for life beyond college?
Posted Sep 20, 2019
When college-age young adults and their parents think about what success in college means, they typically think about GPAs, resumes, job experiences and extracurriculars. But this perspective avoids other critical tools that young adults must have if they want to live independently—including while they are abroad, during an internship in a new city, or in their first full-time job after college.
Child psychologist Dr. Lisa Dissinger and her son Peter, a recent college grad, recently sat down to reflect on these tools. Together, Peter and his mother have described three different sets of skills that prove to be essential to surviving college and functioning on your own.1.
1. Financial Literacy
Dr. Dissinger: At 8 years old, I brought Peter to the bank to open a savings account, just like my father had done for me as a little girl. From that moment on, I tried to teach Peter about money - whether it was encouraging him to find odd jobs or giving him money as an allowance for completing chores.
Going to college, Peter had to pay for his books out of his own bank account. The message to Peter has always been “you are capable to make your own money, to save money, and to pay for what you want and need”.
Peter: You’d be surprised to learn that a lot of students’ finances are strictly controlled by their parents. Many have never paid their own bills, held a credit card in their name or even managed a checking account. Even more students are unfamiliar with the tax process or learning how to budget.
I learned in college that being financially savvy and becoming familiar with credit (and how to build credit) went a long way to eliminating my anxiety about living on my own and being financially self-sufficient.
Dr. Dissinger: Since kids have so little power growing up, my message to Peter was you have control over what goes in your body and out of your body. I wanted him to have a sense of control as a young child and choosing what food he ate was a powerful tool. As he got older, Peter started to get interested in trying other foods and actually helping me cook. This was a perfect transition to building his “cooking” literacy and ability to take care of his needs in the kitchen as a young adult.
Peter: I learned how to cook when I was twelve years old. By watching my parents and the Food Network, I taught myself a variety of basic recipes and cooking techniques, such that I became a competent cook by the end of my senior year of high school. My parents always made sure to let me experiment in the kitchen, which allowed me to get a few of those nightmare moments (burnt scrambled eggs, anyone?) out of my system and feel more comfortable in the kitchen.
Though I was mostly dependent on cafeterias in college, I had a kitchen while I was abroad in London and in my senior year apartment. While many of my friends chose to continue eating out during those times, I was able to save money and enjoy healthy meals without the stress of finding a cafeteria meal or restaurant I was in the mood for.
Better yet, food is a uniting activity for friends! In my senior year of college, I hosted regular dinners for friends and even a few full-blown dinner parties. Your child will not only be everyone’s favorite friend, but also ready for the real-world of adulting ahead.
Dr. Dissinger: With regards to cleaning, my message has always been clear with Peter; there is no choice about taking care of your things. The only choice is how are you going to do that. I used the “team” metaphor. I will work with you to help you clean up or make your bed, or you can do it all by yourself.
Guess which choice he made? As a young adult, I continued to expect that Peter is responsible for his possessions and getting his room clean. The thing I had to learn as a parent was how to give him time (when he came home) to take care of his mess, and not expect it to be done on my timeline.
Peter: This is where I lose most of my friends from college - I always kept a clean room and did laundry on a regular basis. Though it may not seem like an essential skill, leaving dirty clothes in your room for three weeks can get pretty gross! I won’t even share the horror stories I heard about my friends’ freshman dorms.
I felt a lot more in control of my life at college because I kept a regular cleaning routine of my bedroom and common areas. In addition, when you rent an apartment, you’re responsible for the cleaning bill at the end of the lease. So, if all other arguments fail, cleaning up after yourself will save you a few hundred dollars a year (and some gross smells) when all is said and done.