Focus on the Family Broadcast

Preparing Teens for the College Years (Part 2 of 2)

Preparing Teens for the College Years (Part 2 of 2)

College professor and author Alex Chediak offers advice to parents on guiding their teens toward academic and career success. (Part 2 of 2)


John: Last time on “Focus on the Family,” college professor Alex Chediak talked about getting your teen ready for college.


Alex Chediak: They’re 14-years-old. You can start talkin’ to ’em 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 get development, to get training, to get skills so that you can do that for a living. If you want to develop the interest 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.

End of Recap

John: Well, Alex is the author of the new book, Preparing Teens for College and as always, he had some great insights to share. And we’re gonna pick up the conversation again today with Focus on the Family president, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and Jim, we spent quite a bit of time in our last program, talking about younger teens and getting them ready for those years away. And we have more ground to cover today for parents of older teens.

Jim: John, last time I connected with the content because of my own boys. I mean, they’re kind of right at that place. You’ve got kids kind of spanning the spectrum. But there are some parents who are getting close to sending their sons or daughters off to college or maybe trade school. We rarely talk about that, but that’s another option. And they have to begin to really focus on helping their teen get ready for that transition. We call it, you know, the “launch” of your child.

John: Uh-hm.


Jim: And we want to help you work through the college choices that are there. You’re gonna face financial decisions and really making sure that as a young person, your children are ready to go and that they leave the home in a way that honors the Lord. Alex, is it great to have you back at Focus on the Family.

Alex: Thanks for having me again.

Jim: I think I’m gonna hire you as a personal consultant for my boys. (Laughter) But uh …

Alex: Happy to do it.

Jim: Hey, let me ask you perhaps a difficult question right from the git-go. You’re a college professor. You see all kinds of kids comin’ through your classroom. And I’d hate to put you on the spot like this, but I’m going to, because so often you can tell through those impressions, kinda what home life was like for these kids.

Alex: Yes.

Jim: Let’s just take off the mask. You can tell.

Alex: Yeah.

Jim: As that observer, someone who’s in the role now of teaching 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds and you can classify the kids. I hate to say it that way, but that’s what happens. Talk to the parents of each of the groups that you kind of, in your quiet part of your heart, clump the kids into. Those good students that are doin’ well, what do you think went right in their homes? Those kids that are mediocre, that maybe struggle in certain ways, what was going right and what going maybe not so right in their homes? And then those kids that you see that are just really struggling with the environment at school, what do you perceive went wrong in their homes?

Alex: Okay. Let’s start with the best ones, the best case. In the best students that I see, what’s happened is, they’ve been trained in responsible independence. So, it’s not that they were just let loose at 14 just to go do whatever you want. That’s not that the parents were micromanaging them all through high school, but that they were trained in progressive measures of responsible independence.

Jim: Those are the most successful–

Alex: The most successful.

Jim: –teens you see in college

Alex: Absolutely right, yeah. And these are the ones who, for example, I’m thinkin’ of one kid in particular who, his parents had him teaching kids’ Sunday school when he was 14, that that’s something he could do. And the first adult’s gonna train you and then an adult’s gonna let you do it by yourself. And so, he had some responsibility, some leadership. He had to develop all his lesson plans and then go do it–service orientation, developing personal responsibility and a desire to help other people.

And then it was this high school classes the same way. Mom and dad are gonna help you kind of orient your homework, but then we’re gonna let you own more and more of the daily management and we’re not gonna tell you, okay, study this now or study that now. You own your own thing here.

And maybe we’ll give you more say in just determining your curfew, how late you can stay out, because you’re doing well in your responsibilities and you’re able to manage it. And then you learn as they’re growing older, they’re giving them more and more freedom, but they were trained for that freedom.

Jim: Hm.

Alex: And so, they’re saying, “You know, I should get home now, ’cause I have a big day tomorrow.” They’re saying it themselves instead of having someone tell them they should be going home.

Jim: Right.

Alex: They’ve been trained for that. So, now let’s go to the middle ones. In the middle ones, the students that are so-so, the parents kinda did a little bit too much for them maybe and were kinda protecting them from the world, more than was appropriate for their age.

I think you’re absolutely right that we want to protect our kids from sinful influences, especially I’m thinkin’ of pornography and the Internet. I have no qualms about parents preventing their kids from getting access to computers in their own bedroom. I know, I think it’s right for parents to protect their children from sinful temptations, from exposure to sinful influences.

But I’m thinkin’ about things like managing their time, managing their money, managing their schedule. As they get older, giving them more freedom and more leeway there, so that they’re learning to handle that responsibility.

Jim: And then, let’s cover that last group, where you’re really concerned, little Johnny or Mary in your college classroom now is struggling so much. And you see emotional response to it and you think, my goodness, what kind of household are they comin’ from?

Alex: Yeah.

Jim: What does that typically look like for you?

Alex: Typically it’s what I call “extreme under-parenting.” So, this is the idea of a parent who just wants to be their kid’s friend. We see it among non-Christian homes more often. I read a study once about a guy who was complaining that his wife, when his daughter turned 13, the wife was out there acting like a 13-year-old girl, too.

She wanted to fit in with her daughter and her daughter’s friends, so she was acting like a 13-year-old girl, so that she could bond with her 13-year-old friend. And not giving any instruction, not giving any counsel, not giving any wisdom, but just kind of moving down at the level of teen years. So, those teens that didn’t have enough training, those are the ones who I think are the most ill-prepared.

Jim: Hm. Let’s talk about just the college decision and we touched on that at the open, but when you look at how to make a good decision for college and we touched on junior college and vocational training and then you know, full four-year college. What’s your advice there? I mean, how do we discern that in a way that … ’cause that’s a monumental decision. That sets up your child for much of the rest of their life–

Alex: Right.

Jim: –the decisions that they’re gonna make over these next couple years, as they’re 16, 17 and you’re tryin’ to work with them in making those decisions. How do we bring the best wisdom to bear on that situation?

Alex: Yeah. I think on the one hand, it’s a big decision. On the other hand, there’s 4,000 colleges and a lot of students would do well at one of several colleges. I mean, nowadays, students are applying to many more colleges, because there are so many more options. And I think because there’s a common application now, a student could click one button and apply to 10 schools. So, that’s what’s happening a lot now.

So, what I advocate for in the book is looking for three things. Looking for a quality education, job preparation, ’cause you gotta be practical. You don’t want to have $70,000 in debt at the end of it and have no job.

Jim: Right.

Alex: So, quality education, job preparation and then a Christian community, at a church and a campus community, even if it’s a secular university, but does that secular university have Christians that my student can be able to have friends that are Christians, to hold him strong in the faith while he’s there, those three or four or five years? So, those three components I would advocate for is quality education, job preparation and Christian community.

And there’re often multiple colleges that would work, so other component would be geography, finances, looking at those practical things, as well.

Jim: When you look at that, for me again, I went to a state school, so it would keep my costs low.

Alex: Right.

Jim: I think I took a very small loan out. I think it was three or $4,000. I worked one or two jobs through college.  I didn’t have anybody to depend upon in that way. I didn’t have my parents to help me. It can be done. Talk about the expense differences between colleges, too, because I think when it comes down to finance, that typically is a big part of the decision, whether you go to a private four-year school that might be costing $40,000 a year or a state school that might be two to $3,000 a year or you know, other options.

Alex: Yeah. From a community college to state schools to private four-year schools, the price is gonna go higher and higher. You can look at the sticker price on their website, but I also give a couple website in the book where parents can go look at the what’s called “the average net price.”

Jim: Okay (Chuckling), now we’re learnin’.

Alex: We break that down.

Jim: What’s the average net price?

Alex: So, the net price is the price after scholarships and grants are taken into consideration. So, the average student gets some discount, whether it’s ’cause of financial need. So, grants are usually from financial need. Scholarships are usually from merit. In other words, academic merit, athletic merit, musical merit, you name it. So, these are markdowns in the price for a student.

So, a private college for example, may have a sticker price of 40,000, but the average student’s spending 25,000, which is still a lot of money, but it’s less than 40,000. So, knowing going into the application process, okay, this college is known for giving a lot of financial aid. And this college is known for not having as much financial aid. ‘Cause different schools have different amounts of financial means with which to be generous.

Jim: Sure.

Alex: So, I mean, it’s not that some school is just heartless and this school’s you know, full of grace. It’s that one school has $100 million endowment and the other school has a $10 million endowment or some school has a $5 billion dollars endowment.

Jim: Yeah.

Alex: So, you have different levels of ability for the school to give aid to those whom they want to see go there. So, I think it’s important now for parents to look at these different colleges from the standpoint of, okay, what kind of aid do you give? What percentage of aid do you give? What percentage of freshmen get aid? Is it need based aid? Is it merit aid?

Private schools generally give more markdowns than public schools, because public schools have a lot of people wanting to go and the state’s already marking down the price. So, it’s already a lower price to begin with.

Jim: Hm.

Alex: When all is said and done, private schools are still gonna be generally more expensive than public schools, but usually it’s not as large as the sticker price suggests.

Jim: What’s so funny though and I’ve never thought of it in this way, but it’s almost like buying a car. How do you start the process of talking over price with the big university? How do you get into that setting? Is there a sales manager you can talk to?

Alex: Um …

Jim: Say, well, hey, I’d like the 25 percent off version. (Laughter)

Alex: There is some similarity to buying a car in the sense that it is, you are in a sense, the consumer. I mean, I’m an educator, so I love school for the benefit of teaching. But there is a business side of it to both the college and the family, is making a financial decision of whether they can purchase this product at the price that’s being offered.

So, I think,if you apply to multiple schools and you have multiple offers, then certainly colleges are in tune to, okay, my Johnny has an offer from School A that’s a little better than School B. He wants to go to School B, but can you please be as generous as School A? School B listens to that. They … they listen to a … a competitor’s offer, for lack of a better phrase. It’s true. They will listen to that. So, the financial aid office at any college is going to be in tune to what other offers a kid has.

Jim: So, it’s okay to push.

Alex: It is okay. It is okay. I mean, the worst they can say is no. And I don’t begrudge a parent from saying, you know, I can’t afford this much more money. I could afford to come here if you’d knock the price down by 1,000. A lot of times the college will do that, because they want that student to–

Jim: Right.

Alex: –to be there.

Jim: Hm.

John: We had that very thing happen, Jim. We knew kind of what we could work with financially as our oldest was looking at school. And he applied at a couple of schools that we really couldn’t afford unless they were generous–

Jim: Generous.

John: –with us. And it came down to two schools and I ended up calling one of them saying, “Look, I know you don’t play a lot of, you know bargaining here back and forth. But the truth is, you’re $10,000 a year more than this other school. He’d really like to go to your school.” And so, they said, “Oh, okay, well, we’ll look and see what we can do.” And the offered us $1,500 a year in loans. That was the additional financial aid benefit, to which we said, “Okay, God is clearly closing that door.”

Alex: Right.

John: We can’t afford that and so, he ended up going to a school that turned out to be great for him. I mean, a really good community and so, we sort of put that financial aspect of the college decision-making process at the Lord’s feet and said, “God can use that to help direct our decision making.”

Jim: Kind of like a fleece.

John: Yeah–

Alex: And it’s …

John: –in some respects.

Alex: And that was very wise, I think, what some families do, I think that’s less wise and dangerous is, they say, “Well, my kid really needs to go his dream college. And we’ll pay anything to go to that dream college. He has to go to that dream college,” even though the dream college is not gonna get, you know, that big job and that’ll get the promotion. And that’s just a bunch of baloney, ’cause the reality is, if you look at where most successful people that are in their fields, a lot of them come from colleges that you never heard of.

John: Uh-hm.

Alex: And that’s why I encourage families, make a wise decision. Money is a tangible reality and that school that offered you $1,500 in loans, they may not have had the means. They may have wanted to offer you more; they just couldn’t offer you more, for whatever reason. That’s okay and you just trust that God’ll lead through that.

One of the weird things that I thought of when you said that was “financial aid” is a strange term. It’s a very ambiguous term, because financial aid could mean, “Here’s a $5,000 scholarship. You don’t have to pay it back ever.” Financial aid could mean, “Here’s a $5,000 loan and you have to pay it back with interest. It’s gonna–

Jim: Forever.

Alex: –cost you $10,000. Right, right (Laughter), exactly. I personally would rather they not be able to use the word “aid” for loan, ’cause you can always get a loan from somebody if you’re a reasonable person who wants to borrow money. Someone’s gonna be making money, but lending you money, that’s not really aid in the true sense of the word.

Jim: Alex, let me ask you this question and this is a little dicey. We know a lot of college presidents and we support Christian education and Christian colleges like Biola and APU and Westmont and many, many others. I’m familiar more so with the West Coast, ’cause that’s where I grew up.

Alex: Uh-hm.

Jim: But right across the United States there’s many, many good universities, Christian universities. But when we get down to it, let’s say that you’re unable to afford those–

Alex: Right.

Jim: –kinda where John was talking about. A state school can be a good choice. A lot of Christian parents might worry about the environment their kids are going to. But a piece of advice that somebody shared with me that I thought was really smart is, if there are a number of kids going from a particular area, and from your church maybe, if you’re at a large church and it’s the local state school. Here we have the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.

So, in that instance, if your son or daughter’s graduating from high school, you might encourage them to room with other Christian folks from your church who are going to a local state university and create an environment where you can have accountability. You won’t be lost in a secular setting as a person of faith. Talk about that and is that wise?

Alex: Yeah, absolutely. I think nowadays with the ability of the Internet too, even if a parent sending their kid to a school two hours away from home, they can find churches there and that kid can network with them even in advance of getting there. And saying, “Hey, I want to come to the Christian campus community that you’re a part of. I want to meet you when you’re there.” So, it can even be done from long distance.

But even more so, if you’re in a local area, you got say 10 guys from your church going to the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, yeah, ask to be roommates with each other. And so, understand that, hey, we’re gonna hold each other accountable once a week. And just know going in, that you’re gonna be swimming upstream, but you got a buddy next to you, who’s gonna be swimming upstream with you.

Jim: Well …

Alex: That makes a big difference.

Jim: Yeah it does and to be honest, a lot of Christian college campuses struggle with that moral issue. A lot of kids on those campuses are doin’ things that every other secular campus–

Alex: Uh-hm.

Jim: – -is doing.

Alex: Uh-hm.

Jim: And that’s a reality for Christian parents, too, because again, in the Christian bubble, we can often think we go to Christian high school.

Alex: Uh-hm.

Jim: The kids are doin’ great. They go to Christian college. The kids’ll be doin’ great. But actually, a lot of the promiscuity and other things that are going on, it’s going on there, too.

Alex: Right.

Jim: I’m sure Christian school officials are more in tune with tryin’ to make sure that campus environment and campus life is as healthy as it can be.

Alex: Right.

Jim: But it still happens. We’re human beings and you can’t just give it to others to trust that it’ll be done well.

Alex: Right. Ultimately, your child is gonna have to have an internal moral compass and answer to the Lord and have an internal sense of, I’m gonna go seek accountability. I’m gonna walk away from danger. I’m gonna look for other freshmen who have the same values that I have. And you can tell. If you trained your child to look around your school at the classmates you have. You can know who has values that are Christian and who doesn’t have values that are Christian. Who’s talkin’ the talk and who’s walking the walk.

Jim: Hm.

Alex: So, I think if you’d help your son or daughter understand how to look for other friends who have similar values, similar worldview, go hang out with them, because if you walk with the wise, you’re gonna become wise. But a companion of fools is gonna suffer harm.

Jim: Uh.

John: You know, Alex, I had one child who applied at a state school and I said, you know, “If you go there, since I’m helping you financially, I’d like you to just know up front that I want you to be involved in a weekly Bible study or small group or church experience.” He ultimately didn’t go there, but should parents put conditions on behaviors and some of those externals?

Alex: Well, I think in the last two years of high school, if they’re going when they’re 18, you want to talk about joint ownership, what I call. And joint ownership can have a financial component. I think it should have a financial component, given how high the cost is.

The most irresponsible teens, going back to what we asked earlier, the kids whose parents are paying for every dime, those kids do not appreciate what they’re getting.

Jim: Hm.

Alex: They can fail classes and mom and dad just bail ’em out again and again. And that’s just awful. So, I think you want to have your kid have some skin in the game financially. Maybe it’s 10 percent. Maybe it’s 50 percent. But make it something. Even I tell parents, if you can afford all of it, even if you could, just don’t. Just make them do something.  Make them have some ownership–

Jim: That’s good.

Alex: –to feel they’re experiencing the weight of it, as well.  I bring it down for my students the first day of class. Sometimes the semester tuition can seem incomprehensibly large, $15,000. An 18-year-old doesn’t have a sense of what that number means.

Jim: Right.

Alex: I bring it down to them and say, “Okay, here’s what you’re paying per class. And here’s what you’re paying per hour. And it’s over a dollar a minute.” To say, “When you’re late to class, you’re basically putting money down the drain.”  Well, I mean, that motivates them to come to class on time.

Jim: Yeah.

Alex: And …

Jim: I like that.

Alex: And the moral aspect, you’re absolutely right, the spiritual aspect, you’re absolutely right in terms of … church attendance can be one of those joint accountability. Mom and dad are gonna help pay 50 percent, 70 percent, whatever the cost may be. And you’re expected to pay the 20 percent, the 30 percent, the 40 percent and attend a weekly accountability group, church group. And then talk to me about it once in a while, because you may think you’re an adult, son, daughter, but if you were an adult, you’d be paying for all of it yourself. You’re apparently not yet an adult. I’m still in your life to train you, to release you well. And we are releasing you gradually over time here, but we have expectations in exchange for our support.

Jim:  Alex, in your book, Preparing Your Teens for College, you talk about six marks of a college-ready teen. I’d like to hit those right at the end here and we’ll post these online, as well, John. But let’s go over those six attributes that you see as a college professor. When you know a student is ready, you are seeing these attributes in full glory. What are they?

Alex: Yeah and just at the front I want to state, no teen is perfect, of course. (Laughter) And these six marks were kinda my sense of, okay, if you have a perfect 10, you know, in the Olympics when the diver dives and has a perfect 10.

Jim: It doesn’t happen that often.

Alex: But if you know what you need to do to get a perfect 10, it makes you rise to that challenge.

Jim: It’s what they’re all aimin’ for.

Alex: What they’re all aiming for. So, the first mark is an active understanding of the biblical message. Okay, now ideally you have a kid who was converted to Christ, who knows Jesus as his personal Savior. But that, again, it goes back to the area that we can’t control what happens in their heart between them and God. Ideally, we want our kids to leave the home saved, by grace through faith, knowing the Lord Jesus. But if that hasn’t happened or if we’re not sure that’s happened, sometimes we’re not sure.

Jim: Right.

Alex: At the very least, do they understand accurately what the Bible teaches about sin, salvation, morality, what are God’s ways and why does God command these things for us? Have mom and dad lived that out in front of my in an authentic way, so that I see that it’s beautiful? Not just true, but that it’s lovely and that it’s attractive.

So, I have kids who wandered for a while, but they said, “You know what? I could always go back and ask my parents questions, ’cause their life was both authentic, but also winsome.”

Jim: So, they were the anchor.

Alex: There was an anchor there. Yeah, so that’s mark No. 1. Mark No. 2 would be a commitment to put away childishness and embrace adulthood.

Jim: That’s a big one.

Alex: That’s a huge one. I mean, the freshmen that don’t make it … we lose about 25 percent of students nationwide that freshman year. And it’s not academic usually. It’s usually character, maturity wise. I had a kid who had a full-ride scholarship once, who literally went from getting a 3.5 to a 2.5 to a 1.5 to being out. And it was all videogames, staying up late at night, goofin’ around.

Jim: He wasn’t ready.

Alex: He wasn’t ready. He didn’t have the internal character, the internal drive, the discipline.  So, he wasn’t committed to putting away childishness. So, I think teens have to know, college is an adult endeavor. It’s an expensive endeavor and it’s an adult endeavor. It’s not a place to be a child anymore. In fact, you are an adult in the sense that I can’t even call the kid’s parents if the kid gets a[n] F on the test. The parents might call me. I can’t even talk to them. Legally I have to talk to the child only or the child has to bring the parent with them if they want the parent to be a part of that conversation. So, the kid is being treated as a full adult.

Jim: Hm.

Alex: And you need to go to college knowing, hey, this is for adults. This is an adult endeavor and I may not have the maturity today that I hope to have when I’m 25, but at least I have an understanding that I’m gonna put away childishness and take responsibility for my life.

Mark No. 3, a commitment to pursue godly relationships. You can’t overemphasize, you know, if you walk with the wise, you become wise. If you walk with fools, you become a fool. Whoever you hang out with the most is who you come out to be like. And oftentimes, birds of a feather flock together. So, the kids come from Christian homes, but you have three of them that are all kinda rebellious. And none of them are really into the spiritual thing or the academic thing and they all get together and they spend all their time together and they’re just going off in the wrong direction.

So, encouraging your teen that, hey, sometimes, especially at a secular college, you know, the easiest people to be friends with may not be the ones you want to have friends with.

Jim: Right.

Alex: And that’s hard. I mean, I remember when I was a freshman, I went to a secular college and I was invited to every fraternity in the first week. And it was, “Come over here” and the unlimited beer and all this stuff. And they’re just inviting you, inviting you, and inviting you, I’m like, it would be so easy to say yes to that.

But I gotta go out of my way to go find the Christian group and the Christian friends, ’cause that’s what I knew that God would have me do for my own soul, for my own benefit long term. So, they have to have that sense of, okay, who I hang out with the most will be who I become like, so I’m gonna be proactive, intentional and wise.

And not that I can’t have evangelism to my non-Christian classmates. Of course, but in order to be salt and light in the world as Jesus commanded us to be, we have to actually have saltiness, have that preservative, winsome difference.  In order to make a difference in the world, we have to be different, right? We have to be–

Jim: Yeah.

Alex: –different in order to affect the world.

Jim: And it’s a good opportunity. I mean–

Alex:  Yeah.

Jim: –you know, to be that different voice in that moment. So, I agree with that one. Let’s hit the others real quick.

Alex: Yeah, mark 4, commitment to sexual purity. That’s absolutely … I mean, you’re gonna have … you’re gonna be bombarded with temptations. So, I think–

Jim: Yeah.

Alex: –it’s important to tell our sons and daughters, Christian school or non-Christian school, you’re gonna have chances to be alone with people, in inappropriate times and inappropriate places. Set boundaries. Be wise. Know how God made your body to work. God’s wired you for intimacy, so protect yourself until the time is right. Commitment to sexual purity.

No. 5, commitment to financial stewardship, so this is knowing that you can’t spend money you don’t have, okay, if you go out and get a credit card and start spending a bunch of money, you’re gonna have to pay for all that stuff. So understand that all the money you have is from God. God has given you all this money and He calls you to manage it well. And if you sign a paper for student loans, at least understand what’s in that paper.

I have had so many students tell me, “I had no idea what I was signing.” I’m like, “Well, who signed it? You signed it, right?” So, no one made you sign it. You gotta know what you’re doing. It’s your life. It’s your future. You’re gonna answer to God for how you handled the money that God’s given you.

Mark 6, commitment to working unto the Lord. Having a good attitude toward your class work, towards your school work. Not this, I have to get all A‘s, ’cause I have to be the best and I’m out for myself. You know, b

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Preparing Your Teens for College

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