Wednesday’s Parent: Passing the responsibility torch

Passing the responsibility torch. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

Passing the responsibility torch. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

He’s got his mom’s eyes. She has her dad’s smile. He’s got his grandpa’s sense of humor. No one ever says, “She has her grandma’s sense of responsibility.”

Maybe it’s because many react to the concept like responsibility is a four-letter word. Being accountable, acting independently, making decisions and behaving correctly is the essence of being a responsible person. It is a parent’s responsibility to teach this lesson to their children.

The importance will be obvious once the kids leave for college and the lack of responsibility costs time, money and a lot more work for all family members. May students with a strong sense of responsibility mess up anyway? Sure, we all make mistakes and parents may use it as a teachable moment instead of an “I told you so.” However, if the lesson was well-learned, the student will probably be saying this to himself, taking responsibility for his actions, and being more careful in the future. That’s the true test of responsibility.

The following is a list of typical problems and preventive solutions for parents to teach responsibility now before their children go off to college as young adults.

Money Pit

Problem It seems every time the student calls home she is asking for money. Worse, the calls are coming with alarming frequency. Or the checkbook is overdrawn, the credit card is over the limit, or the student loan is so high the she won’t be able to afford an apartment and must live rent-free at home after graduation.

Solution Teach the value of a dollar and how to budget. Mixing money management skills with financial planning and delayed gratification is the basis of a sound financial future. If students can, they should balance studies with work to earn their own spending money. Summer jobs or internships that earn course credit may help defray more college expenses. Families should only borrow what they can afford to repay.

Dirty laundry 

Problem The student returns home for a visit with several bags to give his parents. Trouble is the bags aren’t presents. They are stuffed with dirty clothes. Never ask and try not to think how many times he wore those socks or underwear before he stuffed them inside a bag.

Solution Teach now how to do use washers and dryers and when on campus learn where they are and how to pay for them. Make sure he has a full supply of detergent. Then when he comes home, reintroduce him to the responsibility of taking care of one’s own wardrobe.

Achoo! Cough!! 

Problem The parent receives a text message from his offspring complaining about how sick she is and needs some immediate TLC. The college infirmary is so packed, a bad cold doesn’t gain admittance. The school offered flu shots and hand sanitizer but this student blew them off, instead staying up late sharing popcorn out of the same bowl and drinking soda out of the same straw with others.

Solution Before you drop everything to dole out the sympathy, make a house call, or mail a medical care package, prepare her now. Teach preventive medicine like proper hand-washing techniques, sharing food, and getting enough rest. Have a plan for minor illnesses caught at school so she can take care of herself. Then send her off to college with plenty of tissues and the knowledge about using over-the-counter medicines appropriately.

Off meds

Problem It’s midnight and the student is calling home, frantic that he ran out of his necessary medication. There is no all-night pharmacy nearby. Or that he fell down and has bleeding elbows and skinned knees. The on-campus Infirmary is closed and the injury doesn’t warrant a trip to the ER.

Solution Teach basic first aid skills in general and special health needs for medication and special equipment in particular. Before leaving for college, have a plan to schedule reorders and know how to contact local pharmacies. Check out the campus Infirmary for what it treats and when, the local hospital and any medical professionals the student may need to contact for help. It’s also a good time to have another “sex talk.” And don’t forget to pack a first aid kit.

Freshman 15 

Problem The student has taken full advantage of all those cheese fries, shakes, burgers, pizza, ice cream, cookies and coffee drinks available and within easy reach twenty-four-seven. She has gained weight and it is negatively impacting her health and her wardrobe.

Solution Good nutrition is important at every life stage. Parents can model this at home and make a healthy life-style for the entire family a priority. When the student goes off to college, she will have the knowledge to create her own. Investigate all options on the meal plan and take advantage of the gym, sports and clubs available to get the student moving. Besides, the cost of tuition, fees, room and board usually covers these expenses whether they are used or not.

Bad choices

Problem Substance abuse, binge drinking, extreme hazing, academic probation, suspension, expulsion are all results of bad choices. No parent wants to hear any of these things associated with their student. Worse, the school may not be able to tell them of impending trouble because of privacy rights under FERPA.

Solution Keeping communication open and honest is the key to a good parent-adult child relationship. Start now by being a good and supportive  listener who is available to offer nonjudgmental advice when asked. Move on to teaching good decision-making skills and the expectation of dealing with the consequences of choices. Parents may also ask their student to give permission for the college to release information to them.

Failing classes

Problem The student doesn’t go to class, gets failing grades, and drops a course past the deadline. She was listed as a full-time student at the beginning of the semester but her record will show otherwise. Her academic standing and financial aid are in jeopardy but is still on the hook for the full college bill.

Solution Being a student is a job and acceptable job performance standards should be clear. Parents and students need to have a heart-to-heart discussion about expectations. Both should be vested in the agreed upon terms for motivation to achieve stated goals.

Pressure Cooked

Problem The parent provides a daily wake up call to the student and helps with her homework. Or the student, like these case studies, is unable to get what he needs to get done each day. The fear is without parental intervention, the student will be late to class, unable to handle the workload, and stressed beyond her limits.

Solution Time management skills are a must for those with long to-do lists. Parents and students can practice them together leaving more time for family fun. Creating a calendar, listing tasks, breaking them down into manageable steps and prioritizing activities is also a form of control that can mitigate against stress. Knowing personal limits and when to ask for help are skills, too. Students should know they may seek campus tutors and mental health professionals when needed.

Crime victim

Problem The student doesn’t bother using the campus escort service late at night and goes out alone. Or he leaves his new laptop unattended in the library. Or he props the dormitory door open leaving his wallet on his desk. The student is now a victim of a crime.

Solution Regardless of where families live, each member should have “street smarts” and self-defense knowledge. Parents can teach their children or they cans learn together from a professional. Before going to college, visit the Safety Office and learn campus and community safety procedures and features.

Stolen identity

Problem The student returns home every chance he gets. The parent visits, calls, texts and emails every chance she gets. The parent-student separation anxiety is running way too high.

Solution Parents and students can develop their own individual interests and commitments. They can enjoy family time and time apart. Parent-student separation anxiety may be reduced by planned and regular agreed upon contacts such as weekly phone calls and mid-semester visits. Students need time to to make new fiends and adjust to college life. Besides, there are longer college breaks between semesters than those based on high school calendars. They do come home a lot!

Don’t forget to celebrate accomplishments. They lead to self-supporting, self-sufficient and independent adult children. Responsibility has its rewards!

Read Suzanne’s blog: With Freedom Comes Responsibility


Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

The bonus is on the fourth Wednesday of each month when Suzanne and I host Twitter chat #CampusChat at 9pm ET/6pm PT. We feature an expert on a topic of interest for parents of the college-bound.

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from to and vice versa.