A couple of months ago I went to a community breakfast at a private school that prepares its students for the best colleges in the state and nation. The speaker told this overachievement-oriented audience that parents should focus on preparing their children for life, not college.

That morning I learned that college is stressed to the point that it is considered the pinnacle of a young person’s life. Reaching one’s destination so early in life may be disillusioning and detrimental to an emerging adult’s development.

College is stressed to the point that, according to Dr. Levine, it is considered the pinnacle of a young person’s life. He thinks that reaching one’s destination so early in life may be disillusioning and detrimental to an emerging adult’s development.

Getting ready for college and preparing for life are not mutually exclusive but there are decisions I make nearly everyday that reflect my priorities. For example, should I wash and put up my children’s clothes so that they can focus on their studies or should I require them to do the laundry even if it means less time reading?

Do I

  • encourage them to take part in extracurricular activities that will look good on a college application or encourage them to pursue what they enjoy?
  • hire a tutor to make sure they understand all math concepts or ask them to get help from their teachers? 
  • look over their homework papers or give help only when asked?
  • seek placement on a competitive sports team or promote fitness through strength training and aerobic exercise?

My responses to those seemingly mundane decisions may change depending on what I hope my children to accomplish: get into their first-choice colleges or thrive professionally and personally for a lifetime?

And what do my children really need for life and not just college? Here are some things that come to mind: 

  • Take care of themselves - do laundry and cook meals
  • Generate income and manage money
  • Form and maintain lasting, supportive relationships 
  • Solve problems independently, often very quickly but sometimes through long periods of reflection 
  • Eat vegetables when they’d rather have potato chips or chocolate
  • Make good decisions without being overly influenced by any one person
  • Know when someone is fooling them
  • Have the courage to ask questions, whether encouraged to be inquisitive or not
  • Be able to walk away from undesirable and dangerous situations.

The nice thing about preparing for college is that you can tell whether your children are on track: you can look at test scores, ask about class ranks, and count community service hours. Measuring life readiness is not so simple. Still, I can re-focus my parenting efforts from “have you finished your homework?” to “why do you think -- insert the latest infamous celebrity snafu -- did that?” and hope it makes a difference.