Prepare to be Unprepared – When Your Child Leaves for College

Most mornings find me scrolling through my Google web alerts, Twitter feed and Facebook friend posts (I know, I’m old) and various other web locales to connect and feed my hunger for information. Today that activity led me to find a gem of an article written by none-other than my teenage heartthrob, Rob Lowe. It’s adaptedĀ from his recently published book, Love Life. The excerpt is titled “Unprepared – Rob Lowe on sending his son off to college.

I’ve not read anything Mr. Lowe has written previously, so I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this piece. While there’s nothing new about children going to college, Mr. Lowe managed to grab my hand and pull me along with him on his journey of nostalgia and longing so I was both moved and entertained on the way.

What does this have to do with you? As the parent of a child preparing (in 3 months or 3 years) to leave for college, what are you doing to prepare? There are the physical preparations, right? If the departure date is years away, maybe you’re saving money or investing in your daughter’s travel sports teams or your son’s entrepreneurial venture hosting a summer camp for kids to learn Minecraft. If the departure date is months away, you may be contemplating how many Sherpas you’ll need to hire to cart your child’s belongings to the summit known as his residence hall room.

Then there are the other ways we prepare.

My daughter Girlie, (for new readers, that is not her real name – I’m not that cruel) is just 8 years old. But she’s been helping me prepare for her departure since she was born. Yesterday, we went to the park because it broke 50 degrees Fahrenheit in Cleveland and that’s cause for celebration here. But I digress.

Girlie was playing touch football with 15-20 other kids. She was a head shorter than the next smallest kid. Given that she’s in the 99th percentile in height for her age, that translates to her being considerably younger as well as smaller than all of her teammates and opponents. At one point, another child ran up to me and asked if I had a daughter. When I said yes, she said that Girlie had been hurt. I stood quickly to see Girlie striding up the hill holding her neck. I expected sobs and the need for a hug. Instead, she asked me for some water. I inquired about the injury and she pointed to a kid who looked about 14 and said he’d struck her as part of the game. I noted the dried tear tracks on her face but was smart enough to simply ask if she needed me to do anything. She looked puzzled and said no. I suggested we leave for home and she adamantly refused. And she returned to her buddies and their activities for another half an hour.

What does this teach me about being prepared for her to leave for college? Everything. Because there will be bigger kids at college. Kids who’ve tried more drugs and had more sexual experiences and kids who can regularly skip class and stillĀ earn an A. I know, you want to cover your ears right now and hum the Star Spangled Banner. But that won’t help you prepare. And it won’t help your daughter or son.

What will help? If you have years, start talking now. Think sound bites rather than lectures. Pick a line that applies to the lesson you wish to impart and regularly drop it into your conversations. Soon your kids will be mimicking it back to you in an annoyed tone. That’s a good thing. I still hear my father’s “Nothing good ever happens after midnight,” echoing in my brain thirty years after I first heard him utter those words.

If you have months, don’t despair. Think about your biggest fears. Be honest with yourself. What are the worst things that your child could do at college or that could happen to him? Is there anything he could do to prevent those things from happening? Example: failing classes and dropping out of school. This is generally very preventable. If your daughter has struggled in class before, she may be comfortable with the process of seeking out and receiving help. But what if she sailed through high school and in fact was a tutor for other students? Then when her first exam is returned in statistics with a big fat “D” emblazoned on it, what will she do? If she’s prepared, she’ll head to the Educational Support Services office on campus and find out how she gets an individual tutor. If one is not available or she needs to pay for a tutor, she calls you and you send her money to hire a graduate student. I know this seems obvious, but when there is shame involved, high-achieving students become fearful and confused just like everyone else. A few conversations about important topics surrounding the “biggies” like failing, alcohol and drugs, mental health, wellness, sex and general safety – for your child and his/her property – can go a long way.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be blogging about ways to prepare your child for college. Please comment here or email me at to have me address a particular topic.

Prepare to be unprepared.


Kimberly's High School Graduation

Kimberly’s High School Graduation