This is a big milestone. Whether your kids are going off to college, or leaving home for a place of their own, it’s big.
Here’s some parental advice you can roll out to the young adults.
Congratulations. You are now unsupervised, full time. Multiple “brain radar jammers” are available vying for your attention: peer pressure, showing off, fooling around, looking cool, alcohol, drugs, fast food, performance enhancing drugs, sexual attraction and pressure, maybe even love.
There are also societal expectations. “This is the best time of your life! Party like a rockstar!”
Whew. It can be overwhelming and chaotic. Everyone’s affected: some seem to weather the storm, some crash and sink, most muddle along to varying degrees. What can we teach our kids to help?
1) How about a simple pearl of wisdom:
“Treat this like a job.”
Simple and clear.
Here’s how it plays out. Get up early Monday through Friday, even if you don’t have any classes scheduled, go to the library or some quiet place and do something every day for each of your subjects even if nothing is due. Go to lunch, show up for your classes, go back to the library or quiet place until late afternoon. Walk places if you can, schedule some exercise if you like. Then you can go back to your dorm, apartment, fraternity or sorority house, have dinner with friends, and hit one of your quiet places again after dinner. If you’re ahead on all your classes, super; now’s a good time to teach yourself to read for pleasure or background information, it’s a great use of your time. Since this is your job, no drinking or drugs during the week. If it’s a special occasion, maybe OK, but stick to your personal dose because you’ll be getting up tomorrow.
Of course you can have fun: save the weekends for parties, dates, sleepovers, dancing, talking all night, sleeping late, playing cards, wasting time on the Internet, video games, TV, spectator sports, political causes, exploring your city, travel, etc.
Here are a few more tips.
2) Generally, don’t make a flaming start in freshman year. It’s tempting to want to establish yourself as a well-known party animal, social celebrity, sex god or goddess, tough guy, big shot, or some other socially hot commodity. Stop, breathe, think, and resist this urge. In a short year or two, you’ll look back on freshman year as ancient primitive history. You don’t want to cringe at what you did, who you dated, what sexually transmitted disease you acquired, the D minus you got in Music Appreciation, or the embarrassing digital pictures and video that will live forever on the Internet. Of course, you can always go to your quiet place on the weekends too.
3) Remember, you do not, repeat not, have to attend every event, keg party, pot roast, social scene, sports game, or accept every invitation. You don’t. You can’t. There is no Perfect Attendance medal for parties. Put yourself in charge of your schedule.
4) Watch out for joining a fraternity or sorority in the first two years. Many people performed well in freshman year and then went off the rails when they got into one of these ingroups with huge opportunities and incentives for bad behavior. Consider delaying this decision.
5) Beware of group studying or the study date. These are oxymorons like jumbo shrimp or military intelligence. Invariably they degenerate into a gabfest or whining session about how, “I’m never going to get this,” or “I’m going to fail,” “Me too,” or “This teacher’s so unfair,” or some other time waster.
If you follow this advice, I guarantee your social life, fun quotient, college experience, or early adult adventure will not suffer. You’ll get the best of it without all the wasted time, unnecessarily slaughtered brain cells, misadventures, hangovers, looming deadlines, awful all-nighters, playing catch-up in courses, and most of the other pitfalls lurking in this tumultuous time of life. I’m not alone on this. In a survey of adults, the number 1 thing they’d change about their lives would be to take school more seriously.
C.B. Brooks, MD is author of Trust Your Radar: Honest Advice for Teens and Young Adults from a Surgeon, Firefighter, Police Officer, Scuba Divemaster, Golfer, and Amateur Comedian.
Avoid Life’s Major Sand Traps. Life Lessons Schools Don’t Teach.