You know, we spend so much time writing articles and talking about what students should be doing to better prepare themselves for college and beyond. However, we rarely take the time to discuss what parents should be doing to help their child (ren). The truth is, no child can make it on his/her own academically, emotionally, or physically. In order to truly be successful, it requires the commitment of those closest to him/her, preferably the parent(s).
It’s easy to assume that, since it’s summer break, your child should have some time off from school to decompress, relax, and enjoy being a kid. The truth is that, unfortunately, NO child can afford to take 2-3 months off from learning and expect to keep up adequately in the classroom. It’s your responsibility, as a parent, to ensure your child has every opportunity to succeed in life as possible. If you really want them to, then you need to make sure you’re doing the following five things this summer as well.
1. Put something in their heads and not on it.
This was one of my favorite quotes (of many) from the movie “Lean on Me” because it is apropos to kids and parents today. I see way too many kids walking around in the latest clothes and shoes, driving cars better than most working adults, getting any and everything they want, with no sense of accountability. When you take a look at their report cards, they are barely passing, are performing below grade level in one or more subjects, and worse.
Every student (I repeat…EVERY student) should be reading and writing DAILY throughout the summer. Reading is how students increase and improve their vocabulary. Writing is how they improve their communication skills (which is a skill that one too many college students and adults lack). I cannot state how disheartening (and annoying) it is to listen to college students use bad grammar in not only their conversations with faculty and even interviewers, but also when sending emails (or memes even, at this point). There is no excuse for this.
And to be clear, this does NOT mean throwing a tablet or computer in front of your child and letting him/her watch a movie, play a game, etc. Kids should be reading BOOKS. Not e-books….paper and hardback books. I remember going to the library every Saturday morning during the summer with my mother to get my stack of books to read for the coming week. I mentioned the Dewey Decimal System in a freshman-level course one semester and it was depressing how few students knew what I was even referring to. Do you and your kids go to the library? Do you even have a library card or know where the closest one is? If not, time to do some research.
2. Teach them about money management and financial responsibility.
Sadly, there are way too many adults who need to learn more about this themselves. However, there is no excuse in the age of the Internet. Every adult should know about the following:
- Bank accounts and interest rates
- Retirement savings
- Life insurance
- Credit and debt management
You cannot prepare a child to be a productive, self-sustaining citizen when you are not one yourself. There are a number of websites, books, and organizations that provide basic information and assistance with learning about these. Take advantage of them and start teaching your children what you learn. Better yet, use it as an opportunity to learn together. It takes $5 to open a savings account. Your child should have one that he/she is using to learn about budgeting, saving, and more. As they progress, they can also learn about investing and how to plan for their future.
Fail to plan and plan to fail.
3. Introduce your child to college.
The first step in letting your child know that college is an expectation, not an option, is to expose them to colleges and universities. No matter where you live in this country, there is a college or university in close proximity. For many of you, there is one in your city. Whether it is a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), Tribal College and University (TCU), Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), or Predominately White University (PWI), take a personal or scheduled campus tour. Most universities are full of interesting history and information that your entire family can learn from an assigned tour guide. Contact any campus admissions office to schedule a tour of campus. This website provides a list of the closest two and four-year colleges and universities near your zip code.
I often see parents taking the time to visit local colleges and universities as a part of their summer vacation plans. This is a great way to expose your child to different campuses and opportunities as you enjoy your summer travel.
4. Enroll your child in the ACT/SAT or test prep.
Depending on your child’s age, he/she should be preparing for the ACT and/or SAT during the summer. If your child is a rising 9th – 11th grader (and younger even), it is best that he/she take the summer to do some form of standardized test prep. This may be via a summer camp or online opportunities you find. Regardless, they need to be preparing. Remember how important it is for your child to read, #1 above? That vocabulary is critical when it comes to the verbal sections of standardized tests.
If your child is a rising 12th grader, it is imperative that he/she enrolls in test prep and also takes the SAT and/or ACT for the first time. Doing it during the summer eliminates the stress of beginning the senior year of high school and having to prepare for this for the first time as well. Taking it at least once during the summer allows your child to see what is expected during the test, get an understanding of the timing, question format, and how to best prepare for retesting, should it be required.
5. Help your child start a business.
We are a nation of consumers. But it’s time to teach our children how to be creators. Remember the young lady above, Mikaila Ulmer? If not, she was recently on Shark Tank and inked a deal with Whole Foods to sell her Bee Sweet Lemonade in their stores….WHOLE FOODS!!!!! I read a post recently from a father who showcased his young son establishing his business that moved neighbors’ trash and recycle cans to the street and back weekly. Regardless of whether it’s a new mobile app your child develops or a lawn care service, help your child understand the value in not only earning money, but also creating his/her own business. This further helps them learn to manage money, interact with a diverse set of people, learn responsibility and accountability, and budget. There are plenty of stories of young people starting and growing million dollar companies before they graduate high school.
The key is that your child should be doing more than simply sitting around the house, playing video games, watching TV, or playing sports this summer. That means YOU as the parent have to do more than simply allow them to do nothing. These don’t have to be rigorous, structured activities. There are plenty of ways to make each of these enjoyable for your entire family.
Dr. Nicki Washington is a computer science professor and author of “Prepped for Success: What Every Parent Should Know About the College Application Process” and “Stay Prepped: 10 Steps to Succeeding in College (and Enjoying the Experience).” She is a featured speaker on computer science education, diversity in computer science and STEM, and preparing for college.