Moving forward is easier for everyone – parent, student and teacher – when life skills are passed on before they are needed

In more than a decade of teaching university students, I have found that most parents have spent the high school years working with their kids to help them prepare academically, while focusing secondarily on the extracurricular activities that go on an university application. And many parents make sure that their kids know how to do their laundry, how to make their bed and keep their space neat.

But, I have found some important life skills lacking: both ‘soft’ skills that involve direct communication, and the routines that establish independence. These are the skills that will allow for more successful learning in the classroom and a greater sense of belonging on campus and in the greater world.

1. Addressing others respectfully

E-mail is a common form of written communication between professors and students, and every year I have to instruct my classes that when they send me an email, they should begin with “Dear Professor” and not “Hey”.

Incoming students often have very limited interaction, electronically or otherwise, with adults who are not their high school teachers or friends of their parents. Part of the anxiety I see in those students stems from being unsure of how to address and interact with older people and authority figures.

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This is not about saying “Yes, sir”, but about maintaining eye contact and controlling body movement.

Like most professors, I encourage students to speak to me directly after class or in my office. But many students don’t do it. Why? Those who do visit admit to being anxious about talking one-on-one with a professor, because interacting with someone older or ‘in charge’ is not something they did without their parents being present. They are often palpably relieved that doing it ‘right’ isn’t that tough, as long as they choose their words more carefully than when talking to their friends (no dropping F-bombs), and don’t swing their keys, or try to put their feet up on the furniture.

They realise they simply need to stay calm and get to the point. They are often following the directions that parents have given them for good behaviour; they have just had few chances to try it on their own.

2. Managing their own schedule

Let them learn by doing, by managing their own schedule (think homework, study time and extra murals). And if you run into trouble? One parent kept track of the number of minutes spent waiting for her constantly late son, and deducted those minutes, times five, from his weekly screen time. When he had a good (not perfect) week, he received bonus minutes. Screen time, game time, play time – whatever is valued can be used to teach this lesson.

How would your child fare if he or she started university today?

No matter how smart your kid is, no matter how much they hustled to get into university, no matter how much you love them, if they are trying to learn life skills at the same time they are taking on the load and pressure of university study, they will be at a disadvantage.

When students are not able to get to class on time because they can’t get up or don’t manage their time well, when they miss assignments or take late penalties because they don’t know how to prioritise, when they are not paying attention or are just rude to me or to their classmates because they are distracted by hunger or uncertain how to act, all of those things affect their grades, and my assessment of them.

So this message is for parents with kids in high school. Ask yourselves how well your child would fare if he started university today. And if the answer makes you uneasy, you have time to change it. Let your teens organise their own after-school time, maybe on one day a week. Let them discover the consequences of spending all their time on a phone instead of getting work done. Let them organise their own transport for one element of their lives.

Maybe you are saying to yourself, “My kid may not have all the life skills mentioned here, but I know my child. My kid is smart. My kid is nice. My kid will work it out.” You know your child better than anyone, but when a student misses class or assignments and gets a lower grade, it’s hard to feel smart. When a student gets feedback from a professor that indicates lack of effort, or negative peer assessment for missing meetings or not completing tasks, or just not getting along, it’s hard to feel nice.

Every young adult will find his or her own way; every parent will let go in his or her own way. But moving forward is easier for everyone – parent, student and teacher – when life skills are passed on before they are needed.

Article by Margaret Dwyer, first published on Washington Post.

Editor’s note: This article has been edited for relevance.

Author: ANA Newswire