Alex: College is an investment in learning how to think, becoming a more competent intellectual Christian adult. What you learn in the classroom won’t directly necessarily influence you on the job, but it teaches you how to think. So, you’re in college to learn how to learn and to learn to love learning and to develop the ability to speak well, to write well, to be logical, to be analytical. These are skills that are broadly applicable in a variety of jobs.
End of Teaser
John: College professor Alex Chediak, talking about the academic and career side of college and he’s here today to talk much more about that. In fact, he wants to help you as a mom or a dad to prepare your child spiritually and emotionally for all of life that’s coming their way, particularly in the college years. This is “Focus on the Family.” Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and Jim, I’m really gonna be listening in here to today’s discussion.
Jim: John, me, too. I mean, of course, I’ve got two boys that we’re really thinking now about how to get them as ready as we can as their parents, for their college experience, not to say they’re both gonna go that direction. I think we need to recognize right from the git-go that some kids don’t go to college and that’s okay. They go to vocational training. They do other things. And more and more, I’m hearing that, that is a good choice for many adult children. So, today we do though want to talk about how we get our kids ready to go and to put them in a place to succeed in college. And we’re gonna do that with a very special guest.
John: Yeah, Alex is a professor of engineering and physics at California Baptist University and he’s written some books. And the one we’ll be talking about today is called Preparing Your Teens for College: Helping Them Face the Challenges, Faith, Finances and Friendships. I should note that he and his wife have three children. They live in California and he’s written for our “Boundless” website, Jim. So, he’s–
Jim: This is one talented professor.
John: –he’s very, very busy, too.
Jim: Alex, welcome to “Focus.”
Alex: Thanks so much for having me.
Jim: Hey, we’ve talked about this issue on the broadcast of how do I know that college is right for my son or daughter? I just alluded to that. There’s been an increase in college attendance in recent decades. However, college graduation rates are down. It seems counterintuitive. Uh … enrollment’s goin’ up, but graduating seniors are going down. What’s goin’ on?
Alex: Well, I think what’s happening is, the greater percentage of students that are going to college, some of them are not as prepared as we’d like them to be. And in some cases, they may be goin’ to a four-year college, when a vocational school like you alluded to a moment ago, may be a better fit for them.
Jim: Or a junior college.
Alex: Or a junior college, right and develop some of the maturity and disciplines at a junior college or they’re more hands-on oriented and geared for maybe something more vocational, technical, skill-based, whether it’s plumbing, welding, mechanic . We’re actually seeing a shortage in those areas–
Alex: –because in a sense, it’s as if we see an oversupply to the four-year schools.
Jim: Let me ask you this. How do we help a child? You know the Scripture that talks about raising your child with their bent.
Jim: And how do we as parents, best understand that bent in this regard? I’m thinkin’ of that even for my own kids. Trent can be more mechanically inclined. He does most of the stuff around the house now, even though he’s not in high school yet. But he’s very–
John: That’s great for you.
Jim: Yeah, well, I say most of the stuff, but he’s really good mechanically.
Jim: He knows how to use his hands. I am not that good at that stuff and he might be someone … I’m just using him as a general expression, but that’s what you should be doing as a parent, kind of recognizing that, that he might find greater pleasure using his hands in that way, rather than going to a four-year school and using, you know, other attributes that God has given him.
Alex: Right. I think what happens sometimes in the public school system, at least in this country in the last 20 years or so, is that high schools really measure themselves by the percentage of students they send to four-year colleges.
Alex: So, it’s a steering process and I’ve seen kids in my classes who didn’t work out so well in calculus and physics, but they’re incredibly good with their hands. And one of them, in fact, a former student of mine, sees him at Costco. He was in the auto shop and he’s on his way to becoming an Air Force mechanic, where he’ll probably make really good money and have great benefits and a great career. But it took him a couple of years to figure out that college wasn’t for him.
I think sometimes we have a one-size-fits-all mentality that’s really not helpful in the way we raise our kids. So, talking in terms of finding their own bent, I think we look for passion and talent overlapping in ways. And giving them chances to explore their passion to see what talents come out. ‘Cause I think talents are really revealed in the crucible of experiences.
I remember for me in high school, I thought I was interested in something and I needed to actually do it to see if I was.
Alex: So, I thought, I was a tutor for a while in high school, helping younger kids learn things. In fact, and then I got some calls for even smaller kids. And then I had some adults wanting help with basic math skills. And so, I started doing a bunch of freelance tutoring and that really stirred in me an interesting in wanting to teach.
Then I got to college and I looked for more opportunities to want to teach. And every time I got confirmation that, you know, people are learning, people are benefitting from it, and that gave me more fuel to keep going with it. So, I think you look for a feedback loop like that.
Jim: Let me ask you, there seems to be another big problem right now with the economy in the state that it’s in. And that is, a lot of the college graduates coming out right now aren’t finding work. I think the statistic I saw was about half. That’s tough to go four years, maybe five and carry the debt that many are carrying and to come out and albeit it’s an interim step, but they end up being a barista at a coffee shop or something.
I mean, what should the expectation of the parents be right now? Because I’m sure a parent who’s put out maybe tens of thousands of dollars for tuition is thinking, you know, when junior finishes that senior year, they’re really on their own now. And only to find out they’ve gotta move home again.
Well, I think what you want to in the high school years before your child picks a major and a college, if really think about the salary prospects in that major. A lot of this, the hiring and the salaries are a function of the major, to be honest with you, whereas technology and business, healthcare are doing very well right now and the liberal arts aren’t doing quite so well. Although there, kids can succeed there, but they have to really work on getting work experiences in college.
Jim: Let’s be practical about that.
Jim: I mean, let’s talk about, if you go to a private college and you end up with a French literature degree–
Jim: –and $70,000 in debt, that’s not a good thing.
Alex: No, no, in fact, if you have $70,000 in debt, you have more debt than 95 percent of people going to college. So, I think parents need to think and the student needs to think going in, okay, I need a strategy from now to graduation.
‘Cause I’ve seen students take on $15,000 debt their freshman year and then I talk to them and say, “Hey, look, how’s that gonna scale in four or five years?” And the math is not good, right. So, I think you need to think about the whole plan. How’s my kid gonna afford this college from day one to graduation? And how much debt am I gonna end up with, compared to how much money he could be making those first couple years when he’s out in the workforce?
Jim: Now this book that you’ve written, Preparing Your Teens for College, we’re kind of talking at kind of the engaged period. But what are you doing with your teenager to talk about these things? I would think a lot of parents might think, well, this is over our 15-year-old’s head.
Jim: It’s probably not.
Alex: No, no, no, in fact, I wrote this book for parents of kids of all ages, but especially 12 and older. So, I think if your child is 14-, 13-years-old, it’s not too early to start thinking about, hey, what are the character qualities I need to help my child develop in terms of personal responsibility and maturity and character, so that when they go out, they can do their homework without somebody watching over them, so that they go into bed at a reasonable hour. ‘Cause that’s what makes or breaks most freshmen. It’s not their SAT score and high school grades. It’s–
Jim: Well …
Alex: –their discipline skills, their character–
Jim: Let’s talk about that, because I would think, you know, for me, I’m livin’ that right now. I’ve got Trent and Troy and they’re right in that age range. And we’re starting to talk about that. What are those character deficits that you’re seeing as a college professor–
Jim: –that raise the red flag? If you can wind the clock back–
Jim: –five, six years, what could some of those students—you don’t have to name ’em, obvious (Laughter), but I’m sure they’re in your mind–
Jim: –but if you could talk to their parents and wind that clock back, what would you encourage those parents to have done–
Jim: –five or six years ago to get them better prepared?
Alex: I think helping them access the classroom well. I have students who, as freshmen in college, don’t know how to take notes in a very helpful way. So, helping them in high school to say, hey, how are you using your class time? You got 50 minutes with the teacher. How are you spending that time in terms of your mental engagement, in terms of what you write down? Some kids write down too much. They’re trying to copy every little word you say and they’re gonna be 10 minutes behind you. Other kids aren’t writing anything down. They’re half asleep and they’re gone. So, helping them understand what is good classroom management of making sure that you are learning and getting’ the most out of your classroom. And then how are you schedule your homework? How are you prioritizing what you spend time on and when you spend time on it? Sometimes we have, you know, the helicopter parent–
Alex: –in our day, where the parent’s telling them, okay, do your math now. Do your English now. Do this now. And they get to college and they have no idea how to prioritize, what is more important?
Alex: And so, that’s discipline, time management, delayed gratification is a big one. Being willing to say, you know what? I need to study tonight, but tomorrow night I can see my friends and have a good time. I have a test tomorrow. I’m not gonna go play tonight. I’m gonna be able to play tomorrow. That’s okay. I can wait till then, that ability to delay. Impulse control is a big one.
Jim: And you know, I’ve gotta say, it’s hard when your kids are 13 and 14 if your child doesn’t have a desire in that. You’ve gotta work very hard to get that going.
Jim: Some children have that natural bent and–
Jim: –you know, one of my boys, he’s just disciplined in that way and he gravitates toward getting ready, being prepared, studying for the test. He likes scoring high.
Jim: He’s competitive in his nature in a positive way.
Alex: Yeah, yeah.
Jim: The other one not so much. I mean, he’s sayin’, wow, this doesn’t really thrill me. I don’t like it. I’d rather play.
Jim: Give us some tips–
Alex: I would …
Jim: –as a parent, how do you rein that in a little, age appropriately?
Jim: How do you begin to say, okay, it’s good you look to play, but we need to do this? How would you go about that?
Alex: Yeah. I would say, try to encourage them to understand that God has given them a mind and that God calls them to use it and this is their time to work. That God makes everyone to work. I tell my daughter, she’s the same like your second son. I like to play. “What’s your favorite subject in school?” “Play time,” right, that kind of thing.
But try to remind them that God’s given you a brain and that He calls you to develop it and that if you develop it, you can have great experiences in life down the road. And if you don’t develop it, you’re gonna be stunted. You’re gonna have less opportunities later on, because God blesses those who are prepared. And we reap what we sow. And so, if we don’t sow, we’re not gonna be able to reap the fruit later on. So, I try to connect it to, look at all the good things that can come to you if you can apply yourself now. What do you want to accomplish in life?
I’m working with older students, so that’s more compelling. But I think at 11-, 12-years-old, you try to get them to understand, God’s made us to work and that we are happiest when we can do things that our … that our minds and our hearts and our bodies can do. And God’s wired us to work and that happiness comes as a byproduct of that being useful in the world. God told everyone to be useful.
You know, loving God with all your mind, heart and soul and loving your neighbor as yourself, that requires a certain amount of usefulness to other people. You have to be able to do things that make other people’s lives better.
And everyone’s supposed to be doing that. The woman who’s a stay-at-home mom is doing that. She’s raising children. She’s being very, very useful in the world and using her gifts and her skills in ways that are enormously and eternally profitable.
So, the man who goes to work, the woman who goes to work, the woman who’s at home with her kids, parents, we’re all working. So, helping kids to know, hey, we all work. You have to work, too. This is what God’s made us to do.
Alex: And then you apply different measures of carrots and sticks. I see both in the Bible, where God uses incentives and motivations, but also punishments, especially the younger ones, this is what you need to do. And then you develop the skills, develop the habits. Once you have the right habits, I think it’s easier to keep ’em going.
Jim: At that age, I think the answer’s yes, but I’ll ask the question. I mean, at that age, do you start equating college and the rewards of working hard going to college with what you ‘re doing with chores and perhaps allowance and what they’re earning? How do you make that connection for them, that if you work hard, you get rewarded? And when it comes to preparing them for college, if that’s the direction they’re going to be going, to help them take it from an abstract? Because, you know–
Jim: –my kids right now, as I’m havin’ that discussion with ’em, you know, they’re thinkin’, well, diggin’ ditches might be okay. I like the sun, you know. But you’ve gotta say–
Jim: –“Listen, that’s not where you want to necessarily be–
Jim: — when you’re 50–
Alex: Right, right..
Jim: –’cause that’s gonna be hard. It might be what you do in your 20’s and that’s good. It’s good hard work and —
Jim: –it may be a good thing for you to do. But what college will provide you typically is more opportunity and that kind of thing–
Jim: –better long-term value in terms of your earning power and those kinds of things.
Jim: How do you instill in a 13-, 14-, 15-year-old those kind of concepts, which sometimes it’s hard for them to grasp?
Alex: Yeah, I think you want to talk to them about where they see … expose them to adults in different fields of work and have those adults talk to them about what they like and don’t like about their job, what they wish they had done differently growing up and what they’re glad they did growing up. And help them see what they can do with … okay, let’s say, they’re good at math, but they don’t really like it. They’re kinda lazy. They’d rather be outside mowin’ the lawn. Then you talk to them about, okay, this is where this career path could take you. And this is where this other career path could take you. Now think long term with me about where you want to end up. I think a future orientation is so important to start filling in 13-year-olds. ‘Cause I think once you hit puberty, your mental (Laughter) capacities grow. Right?
Jim: Oh, they grow, okay.
Jim: I didn’t know that’s–
Alex: They …
Jim: –the direction you were going there, but that’s good.
John: Your mental capacity.
Alex: Well, a second value is the fact that your ability to think complex way begins to develop. And you begin to think abstractly.
Alex: And you can kind of see–
Jim: Cause and effect.
Alex: –in the future, cause and effect.
Alex: And walk yourself down a few years longer than you can when you’re 11-years-old. But then, they’re 14-years-old, you can start talkin’ to them about, okay, high school is gonna end in the next four years. Where do you see the future? If you want to work with your hands, this is what you need to do to get development, to get training, to get skills so that you can do that for a living.
If you want to develop the interests you have in maybe math or science and get better at that, this is where you have to go and you have to apply yourself mentally. But what I would encourage them, is no matter what you’re gonna do with your life, working hard at school is gonna make you a better at whatever you do.
Alex: Because the mental development has cross-disciplinary benefits. No matter what you do in life, if you work hard in math or science classes, they’re gonna make you a better writer, a better communicator, a better reader of history books, because you’re gonna be more analytical.
Jim: Do we sell our kids short thinking at that age, of 13, 14, 15, that they’re not really capable? I’m thinking back. You know, the Jewish tradition, at 13 you do a Bar Mitzvah and we’re gonna start talkin’ to you now like a man or a woman.
Jim: You’re no longer a child. You’ve passed through a threshold. But we generally talk about “failure to launch.” We keep kids in a perpetual state of adolescence, even beyond 18.
Jim: And it’s a big consequence to the culture in terms of productivity and maturity and all those things. Are are we, even in the Christian community, are we taking too low of a bar approach with our 13-, 14-, 15-year-olds? And we’re not expecting them to be able to comprehend, hey, life has consequences. We’ve gotta start thinkin’ about this and where your talents lie.
Jim: I’m sure a lot of parents hearin’ that go, “Ooh! That seems really early. I would have that discussion at 18 or 19.”
Alex: Yeah, I think kids can handle more than we think. You know, I think kids rise to the level of expectations that we have for them. And they apply themselves to something that interests them and where they see the value.
And so, it’s a matter of captivating their hearts and their minds and giving them a vision for it. And they’ll rise to that. I mean, kids who are 13 and 14, they’re looking to older people for mentors. And we know from statistics and from research studies, that those who don’t have parents will find them in a gang or the wrong crowd and they’ll look up to that 18-year-old guy in the gang and say, “You’re kinda like my dad.” And they’ll go that way.
So, what they’re looking for is someone to lead them into adulthood. So, I’m very interesting in promoting this idea of apprenticing to adulthood., that at 13-, 14-years-old, you are now a young adult in apprenticeship for the next five years in our house until you leave. And we want to send you out with a certain set of basic skills that you can use in the world to be successful.
John: Alex Chediak is our guest and I like that concept a lot. I want to ask you a question about that. Let me just say, this is “Focus on the Family” and you can find his book, Preparing Your Teens for College: Faith, Friends, Finances and More. A download or a CD of this program is also available at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And if you give a gift of any amount today, we’ll send this book to you as our way of saying thanks and helping you get the tools you need to help that child launch well.
And Alex, right there, I’m thinking, well, there are kids who say, “That’s a good plan, mom or dad. I’m not playin’ that game.” I mean, you just can’t motivate them well.
John: What do you do about that?
Alex: I think a series of carrots and sticks, so maybe some more sticks, they could be necessary sometimes. Okay, well, if you don’t get your grades up, you’re not gonna have the car on the weekend. You want to have more freedom and more independence? Well, it comes with responsibility, as well.
Alex: So, helpin’ them realize that the things that you want in life at 14-years-old, you want to be your own person. You want to have freedom. You want to be with your friends. You want to have–
Alex: –independence from mom and dad and that’s healthy to a degree, because you’re becoming your own adult; you’re becoming your own individual, right? You’re separating out a little bit from where you came from..
But to help them understand that, with that increased freedom, with that increased independence comes more responsibility. Because life doesn’t come with just freedom. None of us have pure unaccountability. We’re all accountable to God, to our coworkers, to our boss, to our spouse. And to help them realize okay, you can have these things that you want if you in turn, are fulfilling your responsibilities. Your job is to be a student, your job is to do these chores around the house and some of the chores are gonna be for money. And some of the chores are gonna just be because you’re a member of our family and we expect you to work. And we’re training you to enjoy your independence and be successful in that and not be overwhelmed by it.
I think Proverbs talks about the idea of somebody who’s passed by the field of a sluggard, right. It was overgrown by grass–this idea that you either dominate your responsibilities or you become dominated by them.
Alex: And you become at the bottom and you don’t want to be there. And you just kinda keep on motivating to think about what is in your best interests. And I think when a teen sees that you have their best interest in mind, that you’re not tryin’ to control them. You’re not trying to trap them. You want them to succeed. You want them to thrive. You want them to enjoy all the good things that God’s created them to enjoy, then there’s the middle level of moral authority that you develop in their life, where they see, you know what? Dad really does want what’s best for me. I’m gonna listen to him because he does have what’s best in mind for me.
Jim: Alex, let’s talk about the component of faith, which is so important and it fits in here, especially with what you’re describing there with being overrun or somewhat in control of your environment. You know, the Lord, I think, expects to hold things loosely at times, so that He can manage our lives with us obviously.
But let me give you some statistics. A lot of parents are concerned because their kids that go off to college, we hear a lot about falling away of faith and those kinds of things. I think you remind us in your book that 89 percent–
Jim: –of kids who come from homes where there’s a vibrant Christian faith, where faith is meaningful, actually those kids, 89 percent of them do well. They are connected to the Lord through their college experience and they survive and thrive in that environment.
Talk to the parents that have concerns in that regard, where maybe they’re seeing wobbliness, where the culture is winning the heart of their child and they’re really worried that at 18, 19, as they go off to college, are they gonna get into the drinking games and all of the other stuff that’s going on, on a college campus?
Alex: Yeah, I would just encourage parents to know that, what you do in the house has the greatest impact on your children in terms of their well-being. Like you said, 89 percent, those are people that grow up in homes where their mom and dad built into their faith. If you build into the faith of your teen, if you model Christianity to them, even if they themselves are a little bit resistant when they’re 15, 16 to it, if they’re seeing it modeled by you in the home authentically, not perfectly, but authentically and meaningfully, the way you treat one another as husband and wife, the way you treat your children, the way you react towards your neighbors, towards your work, towards your money, towards your time, they can see that Christianity is real in your life and then you’re trying to train them to at least know what Christianity teaches.
This is what the Bible says about our need for a Savior and about our sin and about the fact that Jesus came to die so that if we trust in Him, we can have eternal life and that we can have a meaningful, more significant life even now, but God made everything to be enjoyed. And God’s not tryin’ to trap you and to steal your pleasures. He’s wanting to maximize your pleasure. When He forbids premarital sex, it’s so that you can have greater fulfillment and greater joy. And when He forbids drunkenness, it’s not that you can never have a good time; it’s because drunkenness will make you a fool and it’ll make you miserable in the long run.
So, seeing that God’s will for you is that you thrive and God has plans for you to thrive. And if you live life His way, it’s always gonna be best, at least if they can see that modeled in your life, even if they go through a little bit of ups and downs, they’re probably gonna come out on the right side. And only the faith can be a little bit of a messy process, because they’re trying to think of it for themselves. They’re tryin’ to kick the tires, so to speak. And that’s normal.
When I’ve had teens do that I’ve known, I’ve encouraged them to ask the tough questions about whether they can know that the Bible’s reliable? Or whether Jesus rose from the dead?
Or if the miracles in the Bible … what’s up with the miracles? Or what about God’s moral laws? Do they even make any sense? Encourage them to wrestle through that and be honest with them, because we have answers. Our faith is not the absence of reason. Our faith is built on reason. Our faith is built on history.
So, I think as we do that to our teens, and with our teens, and engage them in that process, they may go through some ups and downs, but God can use that tremendously in their life. And the seeds that are sown can be borne into fruit later.
So that there’s some balance there in terms of giving them greater leverage and responsibility and freedom, knowing that if they blow it here and there, we can be there to help them process it. And that their experiences now are gonna prepare them for the future.
Jim: And you’re really talking about preparing your children with spiritual conviction–
Jim: –to be able to survive in that environment.
Jim: Um … how do we go about doing the best job? You know, sometimes we break this or reduce it into a formula. And a lot of frustrated parents are saying, “I did all that, yet junior went the wrong way.” And then you start incriminating each other as mom and dad. You weren’t the best father you could’ve been.
Jim: You weren’t the best mom you could’ve been. We followed the formula and it didn’t work. Deconstruct that for us. Why is it not formulaic? Because just like, you know, it sounds like I’m describing the Lord’s relationship with us.
Jim: We’re like a bunch of teenagers to Him, you know. Here we are.
Alex: That’s true.
Jim: Yeah and–
Jim: –and we’re making choices that don’t please Him, like we would a son with a father. And so, how do we do the best we can do to ensure that our kids get that spiritual conviction, so when Friday night rolls around, they’re making wise choices.
Alex: Yeah, I think it’s not formulaic, because our teens are independent agents. I mean, but they’re responsible before God and they stand or fall on their own choices. And they’re their own individual. They’re becoming their own adult. So, it’s not formulaic in the sense that they’re gonna have to choose things. And there’s part of it that’s between them and the Lord. And we can pray for them. And at that point, some of the t