Is your child street smart?

Last week, my husband, son, and I traveled to Philadelphia for an Independent Educational Consultant (IEC) meeting. I decided weeks ago that this trip would officially mark our oldest son’s first college visit. The Class of 2024 was finally an option on the dropdown box of the colleges’ visit websites. YES! I could officially register him for tours, and show a college “interest” by starting early. I would take care of two items with this one visit: college tours and an IECA symposium.

Although this trip marked official visits for a few very well known universities, they were not his first tours. My son has touched the bricks of many college campuses since he was born. I remember one of his first visits – The Citadel. He was just a toddler. No, he wasn’t visiting the campus officially, I was. As an IEC, I attend schools often with my family!

With hundreds of schools seen and even more to view, I seem always to have a child in tow! As a mother of three children and a consultant, I continue to watch and listen to the world’s opinions regarding college admissions, high school rigor, and extracurricular overload. As I continue to guide families with their educational choices, I can say that I do not want to be a name brand parent, a helicopter parent, lawnmower parent or any other “type” that you may read about in various media blogs across the nation; I just want to be the best parent that I can be for my boys.

Parenting is not easy. I think we can agree on that. As parents, we have good and bad days. We suffer from doubts and fears of our own. Often, we pray for their health, safety, and wisdom. Every parent that I have ever seen in my office wants the same thing – for their student to be successful, happy and healthy (and not always in that order!) So, as I was walking the busy streets of an urban campus last week, my son asked me an excellent question which made me think.

The question is not as important as the answer. For years, I have always suggested to families that a tour of campus should include the dining hall, a conversation with an admissions officer (hopefully for your region), and some conversations with current students. I have a list of things that students should think about before their official visit, and parents should ask admissions officers or financial aid officers, but something dawned on me while we were walking the streets of Philadelphia.

The college tours are an opportunity for life skills. Parents should let their reigns of parenting become a little less tight — In today’s world, our children need us to teach them about life more than anything. So it is with this article that I hope you will take time to allow your campus visits or even your next big vacation to be a platform for helping your student (preferably middle school and older) how to navigate the streets of a foreign city.

  1. It’s time to “Hail A Cab” or “Call an Uber.” Allow him or her to figure out what it is like to use public transit. However, in doing so, teach your child essential tips. For instance, do not get in an Uber or a Lyft or any other vehicle if the person’s car does not match the criteria given to you at the time of “call” or if the license plate is different. Additionally, you called for a Cab or an Uber so you must have a destination in mind. Be sure to follow on your own phone’s map so that you see where you are going. Please don’t leave it up to the driver to be in charge. Take some responsibility in the back seat for your safety!
  2. Get lost in the city. NOW, I’m cautious when I am telling anyone to “Get Lost” in a strangers city. What I want you to do with your child, is allow them to navigate the streets by looking at their phone (or yours if they don’t have one yet!) and follow a map so that they get comfortable navigating in an unfamiliar place. One day you will not be with them, and it is always easier to do something the second time around than the first. So make it possible for your child to lead you. If you have difficulty passing the baton to anyone, just know you’re teaching your child life lessons and that you will get that baton back!
  3. Let your child to pay. It’s your money, of course, but teaching your son and daughter the habits of physically handing someone money or leaving a tip is an act we hardly think about today. Do you remember the first time you paid for something? I don’t! The best thing is not only to do your child’s paying for something to show that traveling is often expensive, but it can also help with both social and math skills! Also, better yet, if you’re touring internationally, well, then there could be a change in currency.
  4. Travel with a charger. It’s a good idea to have a backup battery to take with you as you are touring the city or campus grounds or anywhere outside of your hotel room. I recommend that you get in the habit of asking your child, “How much life do you have left on your phone?” Asking three or four times a day will help them understand that phones unplugged from the wall might not last as long as they thought. Funny story, our son’s phone outlived both my husband’s and my phone daily! You can guess who had an Apple or a Samsung!
  5. Get to know your child. Students hardly ask questions on tours – parents do! Look around you as your touring a college campus. Most students are walking with their heads down or looking at their phones. Let’s face it; a campus tour is not the most exciting thing to do even if it is your alma mater! So…how does a parent engage their child on a college trip who only hears how great campus is or how hard it is to become a student or how not to get FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out!)? Think outside of the box, your family’s box! Think about what your student enjoys and talk about the campus activities that he or she would be interested in pursuing, especially when they are hundreds of miles away from you! Ask your child if he or she likes the buildings or statues on campus. Does your child like art, history, music? Find ways to engage their senses while touring the school. You have a responsibility too.

Parents, we need to prepare ourselves for their college transition as well as our student. Give them some grace and allow them to not like a tour or a school. They don’t have to ask a question. No one is running back to the Director of Admissions or the regional officer to say that, “Johnny really should be here because of his inquiries!” If you have questions, ask them for yourself! Everyone else is on these tours.

I saw a Mom running after the tour guide talking about “Johnny” and the efforts he is making in high school and the classes he is taking and the long list of other statements to ask, “Does he have a chance?” A tour guide is not going to have that answer. Trust me; the guide is glad that he or she is not in your student’s shoes because guides are thrilled that they are on the other side of the admissions frenzy! They want to show off that they are in college and why they like their school. They have no clue if your student will get an acceptance or a rejection.

So as you embark on your next summer vacation or campus tour with your family. If you have a child in 8th grade or higher, think about engaging him or her on your trip by allowing them to see and feel what it is like to be an adult! One day our children are going to be adults, so help them prepare for their future by giving them opportunities to learn some street smarts and safety!

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