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Once the kids are out of high school, you might think your parental duties would wind down, but in these tough times opportunities for good jobs require more preparation than high school.

In only a few weeks many graduates will face college on their own. How can parents help get them ready for that culture shock so they will stay the course through four years?

            Parents can help with three danger zones: health, housing and habits.

Health. American teenagers should be the healthiest in the world and on many measures they do rank very high. The college student group, however, does bring the average down. Their diet contains too much fat, salt and sugar. Their exercise sits on a broad base in front of a computer, TV, and steering wheel punctuated by mad moments of sport frenzy.

Teach your college-bound high school escapee to cook. Not only will it make a few good meals more likely, but it will give you a few moments to teach good food choices. Put in a plug for avoiding caffeine and late-night eating. Both disturb sleep and produce bad disposition and energy the next day.

Late-night studying, bad diet and erratic exercise make college students the greatest sufferers of colds, headaches, mono and the latest flu bug.

Housing. The best single predictor of college failure is present address, not high school grades and not even college grades. Most dropouts leave with an acceptable record. Where will they live while trying to stay in college? That’s the most important question. The quality of college comes from the on-campus experiences; if you live or work on the other side of town, you’re not likely to drive yet again to show up at a college event. It’s easy to quit, if you only have classes to quit.

Habits. Bad habits start when offers of credit cards come to their new mailbox. Cars and credit cards keep the pressure on to work more hours at a part-time job and account for many leaving students. Students need to keep their shopping, credit cards and car expenses low.

Alcohol is the next most dangerous habit. Almost all girls (and boys) in the college-age group, dealing with an unwanted pregnancy, use this excuse, “I couldn’t help it, I was drunk.”

            Give an “Off-to-College Shower” this summer as a habit-shaping event. Bring all the relatives and friends over to offer their best advice. Maybe they could write their best advice in a card, “The best thing I did in school was… have a good breakfast…join the local church young adults group…take up dancing… run every day…join the computer club or ski club.”

            In addition to hundreds of clubs, most universities have over 100 majors. This can be a source of trouble between student and parent. Now is not a time to push for a decision. First-time students can barely name 20 of the available majors. No wonder over 90 percent of freshmen change their major somewhere along the way and over 50 percent more than once.

            Parents can help here by talking over majors as they come up in early required courses. Keep the pressure to make a decision low. One primary advantage of college is in educating about the variety of life’s opportunities.

If college is viewed as a source of information about choices, then staying in makes sense. Little is lost by taking courses to explore the wide range of majors and careers before making this important decision.

College graduates of five years ago who were recently asked what courses they wish they had taken, seldom mentioned courses in their major. Instead, engineers mentioned business courses, teachers mentioned additional psychology or language courses and others mentioned history, science or hobby-developing courses. It’s a long way from graduation to retirement.

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