Life Skills for the 18 Year Old

Photo Credit: Sam Houston State University Marketing & Communications
Photo Credit: Sam Houston State University Marketing & Communications

In some of my presentations to student groups, I mention that once you turn 18 you are an adult for almost all legal purposes, except the possession and consumption of alcohol (at least in Texas). Eighteen year olds can vote, enter into contracts, marry, and serve in the military.

One of the things that I have to keep in mind for my job–serving students primarily in the 18-21 year-old age range–is that I am ultimately helping to educate them on how to be professional.

This means not only educating them on the law or conflict resolution skills, but also on how to act professionally and responsibly in a sometimes out-of-control, hostile environment. They may not remember a particular point of the law that I share with them, but they will remember how to write a professional letter or how to responsibly resolve a conflict.

In other words, life skills.

Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former Stanford Dean of Freshmen and Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at Stanford recently wrote on eight adult skills every 18-year-old should have for Quartz. She also writes of the crutches that we, as parents and educators, provide to 18-year-olds that prevent them from fully developing these skills.

These skills involve being able to speak to strangers, managing assignments, handling interpersonal problems, and coping with ups and downs.

It seems to me that these are skills that even adults have difficulty mastering. That’s why life is a constant learning process and why it’s important to get help from professionals in these areas. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Learn from the person who has used a wheel and then try to improve upon it.

When dealing with students–and even older adults–I find that stereotyping is dangerous and it is better to meet people where they are. Some are more mature than others. Some are worldly and have profoundly emotional experiences at early ages in life. It seems like some of our children start out with little chance.

Regardless of background, we have to learn to talk to each other, find our way around, take risks, and get along with each other. I recognize, and am sometimes saddened, by the abrupt, immediate, and public harshness of discourse by so many–young and old alike–these days. In the “old days”, there were rough political ads that accused candidates of all sorts of terrible things, so it isn’t necessarily new. But why does it still exist?

Ultimately, our role as educators is to help train others in the way that they should go so that they will not depart from it later, to paraphrase Proverbs 22:6.

I’d like to know your thoughts on Dean Lythcott-Haims’ article.


Casselman: Stop Focusing on Harvard

Ben Casselman writes at that the national media needs to quit focusing on Harvard and other nationally elite schools when writing about admissions processes and financial aid. The reason: those institutions don’t reflect the reality of higher education for most students.

According to Casselman, the reality is that 75% of U.S. undergraduates attend colleges that accept at least half of their applicants.  Only one percent of students attend colleges that accept less than 10 percent of their applicants. Casselman writes that we “tend to view higher education through the eyes of private higher education” although “two-thirds of U.S. undergraduates attend public institutions.”

This is a fascinating article, because it is data-driven and paints a counter-picture to the view of higher education in many stories. Quoting Sara Goldrick-Rab from the University of Wisconsin, “The biggest issue is that people can’t afford to spend enough time in college to actually finish their darn degrees.”

For many students, getting into college isn’t the issue, it’s getting out. Students work while in school, sometimes in multiple jobs that don’t “readily align with class schedules.” Some are raising children. And, they are concerned about debt, even relatively small amounts of debt, at least compared to national private schools. Goldrick-Rab says that, because of the combination of working while going to school, raising families and supporting parents, “one little thing goes awry and it just falls apart…the consequences of it falling apart when they’re taking on all this debt are just so severe.”

This is one of the reasons why services like our office provides is important. The university–through funds students voted on by students–provides legal and conflict resolution services to students. These services aren’t just an extra for students. They are a necessity. In our latest report, 19% of students who see us said that they were thinking about leaving school because of their issue. After seeing us, that goes down to 5%. 54% of the students who see us say that their issue was affecting their academic focus. After seeing us, that goes down to 11%.

I often say that legal issues and conflicts don’t stop at the ivy walls or the ivory towers. Our office helps students focus on their academics and to stay in school.  It’s a necessary resource to help students focus while attending institutions like the one I serve.

H/T to EAB