Tips for High School Graduates and Their Parents| By Will Radcliffe
This time of the year always brings around a new crop of high school graduates – excited with their caps and gowns; excited about prom; looking forward to all the future has ahead.
After spending 15 years in college ministry and now being a pastor of a church, I want to give some advice to students and parents.
Students, here are three tips to make your college experience the best that it can be:
- Don’t take the first friends that come along. Make sure that you are very selective about your friendships at college. Your friendships will determine whom you date; they will determine how you act and how you live; and ultimately who you will become. Don’t take the first friends that come along. Freshmen are used to having friends surrounding them during their years in grade school, middle school and high school. When they get to college and they don’t have that group of friends anymore, they’re not sure what to do. The first person that asks them to do something, they just go along with them. It’s kind of like the freshman class is a bunch of ticks looking for a dog. Everyone’s just trying to find a friend; but, be very selective about your friends.
- Find a Christian circle of people to involve yourself with. Find others you can connect with on a spiritual basis – people who share your belief and trust in Christ. If you don’t have any belief or trust in Christ, your college years are a great time to begin to investigate who He is. Seek Christian friends who will show you what it means to walk as a Christian in college. I think whether you’re a believer in Christ or not, finding a good group of folks who love Christ and want to be involved in His things is always a great way to grow in your faith – either as a new believer or a seasoned one seeking to grow closer to Him.
- Balance involvement and grades. There are so many things to be involved in during college. You can literally join a club that meets every night of the week. You could be involved in so many things that your grades end up suffering. Involvement is tremendously more fun than studying and making good grades; but, you must balance the two making sure that you really put into focus the importance of your grades. Truly, when you leave, it’s going to be your grades and your involvement – in that order – that someone’s going to look at when deciding whether to hire you for a job.
In regards to involvement, I would encourage you to be involved deeply in no more than two things. For Christian students, I would encourage you to be deeply involved in some type of Christian activity – maybe it’s a parachurch organization or the local church there in your college town. Secondly, be involved in something that’s not a Christian activity – maybe it’s a fraternity or sorority or some type of club related to an interest or hobby that you have. You can’t be involved in as many things as you were involved in high school and make good grades. College is more difficult and will require more attention to your grades. If you find one Christian thing to be involved in and one non-Christian thing to be involved in, and then spend your time studying and enjoying your friendships, you will go a long, long way.
Now parents, here are my tips for you:
- Realize that the deep roots that you’ve placed in your child are now becoming broad wings. You’ve put in them a sense of self-worth, a sense of character, and a sense of direction. Now, those roots are going to blossom into wings. Those wings are going to allow them to fly. Wings are scary for a parent because we encounter distance with our students. We often want to lasso them with our apron strings and keep them there. The roots are supposed to birth into wings; and they’re supposed to fly. It’s amazing how quickly the time of parenting goes by. It seems like just yesterday that you were changing this child’s diaper; and now here you are helping him or her pack for college. Know that those deep roots that you’ve put in are now broad wings.
- Pray and participate. You’re always going to be your child’s parent; and now, more than ever, your child need your prayers. They need your praying for their safety. They need your praying for their decision making. With those prayers, you are enabling God to do His work; for He is truly their Father and He truly loves them with the compassion of a mother. Also, participate in their lives. Be a part of their lives. Ask them how things are going. Connect with them. Allow them to know that you still care and that you want to be involved. You spent 18 years raising this student. Don’t disconnect now.
“What’s their primary mode of communication?” is something I would encourage you to ask. If they’re big text messagers, then you need to get unlimited texting on your phone. If they love e-mail or Facebook, then that’s what you need to do to connect with them. Don’t ask them to connect with you in the ways that you connect best. Find out what they connect best with; and then connect with them in that way. Most students aren’t going to sit down and write you a letter to mail home each week. They’re going to be somewhere connected on the internet or on a cell phone. Find that way and continue to participate in their lives through communication.
- Buy meals. Well what do you mean? Buy meals. Go to the place where they are – or if they’re at a college at home, ask them, “Hey you know what? Grab two or three of your friends together. We’d love to take you out to dinner.” Every college student loves a free meal. Take them to a great place – a hamburger place if you want to – or a really nice place – whatever it is. But take them to some place that they’ll like. Get around the table so that you can get to know their friends. In knowing their friends, you know their life and what they’re participating in. All throughout the time that you’ve been raising them, you’ve known their friends; you’ve seen their friends; you’ve probably known their parents well, too. Now, in college you don’t have that luxury. You don’t know their parents; you don’t know their friends; and more importantly, you don’t always know who they are dating. Use this time of buying meals as a tool to sit down and interact with them in a way that they can see the love you have for them – and a way that lets you get to know their friends and share what’s going on in their life.
- Realize that home develops character; college develops calling. In your home, they have developed their character. They’ve walked with you through some tough things. They’ve walked by themselves through some tough things and some good things. Along the way, their character has been molded and developed. Now, college is when they begin to ask the questions, “What do I want to do with my life? Who do I want to marry? Where do I want to live? What do I want to major in?” Their character should help to produce their calling. They may have numerous majors in their time of college. Obviously, they don’t need to waste money and take classes that they aren’t sure they’re really going to need; but, there’s a time when they’re going to need to figure out what they want to do and how they want to do it. I encourage you as a parent to fan the flames of their calling. Encourage them in their calling. What is it that you see in them that they would be great at vocationally? All of us adults know all too well that many of our friends are miserable in their jobs. Well, that can help your college student see how important it is to choose the right vocation.
I think of the story of my wife who was a business major. She felt like she was supposed to be an elementary education teacher, instead. Well, to make the switch, she was going to lose 30 hours from her degree plan. She told her father that she wanted to be an elementary education teacher. He said, “You know what? I think you’re going to be a great one!” He really encouraged her that she should do that. I know my wife well obviously, and she would make a far better elementary school teacher than she would a business woman. So, college is a time of developing calling.
These days ahead can be the greatest days for a parent and a student. They can join together like never before as the student and the parent become friends and they interact together. Still, responsibility needs to be shown by the student in respect for their parents; but, this is a time in which the page can turn, opening up one of the sweetest chapters in their life.
So, I encourage you at this time – as the caps and gowns are worn, as the prom pictures are taken – to put your mind and your focus on how this parent/child relationship can be even better through these college years ahead.
By Pastor Gregg Matte
Houston’s First Baptist Church