In a perfect world, our seniors would be accepted at the college of
their dreams. They would rise to the challenges of college life, be
mentored by caring professors, soar academically and make fantastic
friends for life. We'd miss them when they're gone, but find surprising
pleasures in the closeness of parenting from a distance and the
independence of our own next life stage.
Will it happen?
Roughly 2 million American students head off to college each fall, and
the sobering reality is that almost all of them will struggle in some
way as they adjust to new circumstances and about one-third of them
won't return after their freshman year. (That statistic includes
students at both two-year and four-year colleges.) Getting into college
is one thing, but staying the course is a whole other drama. On top of
the academic stress and strain, college students may face a range of
problems from bullying roommates to broken hearts to binge drinking to
bad professors. What does it take to cope with these and other
Studies show that finances and family/personal circumstances enter into
many students' decision to leave school, but readiness--in the first
place -- can be a factor. Colleges report that more students than ever
are arriving on campus freshman year already overwhelmed, some because
family problems preceding launching left them less secure for the
challenges of college living. The numbers of students suffering from
mental health problems are at an all-time high, with counseling
referrals for depression, anxiety, and substance-use problems
outstripping the resources of most colleges.
Before sending their children off to kindergarten, many parents comb
through the list of skills and qualities needed to be school ready. Why
not do the same as our "babies" head off to college?
Based on research on social and emotional competence, the list below
describes 10 key attributes that young people need to launch from home
with sound bearings. Keep in mind that teens are works in progress, and
most will have developed only a portion of these qualities by age 18.
Messy and still individuating from mom and dad, teens will often
function at their lowest level around parents, shining brightest around
others. Because teens can tolerate only so much "growth" agenda at any
one time, parents should look to these qualities as beacons -- rather
than absolutes -- for their child's success.
1. Motivation and drive:
People with this quality have zest for life, pursuing healthy
activities that ignite their interests. They take initiative and look
for opportunities to become engaged.
2. Practical reasoning and judgment: These individuals use problem-solving skills and good judgment to think through a situation or manage a problem.
3. Moral attentiveness and character:
People who are morally alert have integrity and a conscience, operating
with a sense of responsibility, a value on altruism and a commitment to
caring about others.
4. Emotional awareness:
This quality means you are attuned to your own feelings and motivations
and have a vocabulary for expressing your feelings, as well as empathy
for and insight into others.
5. Healthy habits: This attribute relates to the value and practice of behaviors contributing to physical well-being.
6. Self-control and affective regulation:
Individuals demonstrating this ability are adaptable and can delay
gratification. They're resilient in the face of difficult emotional
setbacks, can cope with problems and can control their impulses.
7. Social skills:
People with social skills have the ability to size up social
situations, are able to develop friendships and are interpersonally
8. Communication skills:
Having these skills means you can articulate your ideas, interpret
others' messages appropriately and function well in a group to
9. Intellectual interests and abilities:
This quality involves a demonstrated interest in education, a life of
the mind, and the pursuit of skills needed to wrestle with ideas,
concepts and difficult sets of information and data.
10. Sense of purpose and meaning in life: Individuals possessing this quality accept that adversity happens to everyone and find ways to engage in a meaningful life.
The big-business marketing of colleges and the increased numbers of
applications has caused a culture-wide hysteria of getting into "the
best college." No research has ever documented that going to an elite
college correlates with life success. Rather, it is these 10 attributes
that help students make the most of wherever they attend college.
Whether it pertains to a teen's summer job choice, the way he or she is
interacting with a teacher, or a decision about an extracurricular
interest, parents can look for ways to nurture these all-important
qualities and support the growth that far outweighs the college
Clinical psychologist Laura Kastner, Ph.D., and writer Jennifer Wyatt, Ph.D., are co-authors of The Launching Years: Strategies for Parenting from Senior Year to College Life (Three Rivers Press, 2002) and The Seven-Year Stretch: How Families Work Together to Grow Through Adolescence (Houghton Mifflin, 1997), and are currently writing a third book on adolescence.