Take chances, embrace change this school year

Helena Rodriguez: Freedom Newspapers

It’s a fact of life: You can’t keep doing the same thing and then expect different results.

Keep this in mind as you start the new school year. But also keep in mind that while it’s better to get things right the first time, there’s nothing wrong with going back and fixing little problems along the way, while you still can, before they become bigger problems.

At the beginning of each school year, I give my daughter Laura, who is now 15, a pep talk. Laura knows the routine but I try to make this pep talk anything but routine because it is as much for myself as for her. I’m also a student, a graduate student, and I believe parents and children should be each other’s biggest cheerleaders.

In the eyes of my daughter, I’m sure I seem more like Public Enemy No. 1 at times, but if there’s something we agree on more and more lately, it’s on the importance of Laura’s education. For us, it’s not a question of whether or not Laura’s going to college, but where and how?

Laura likes to push my buttons at times and say that she’s not going to college. Sometimes she does this just to see me turn red and get ready to explode, and then she stops me with one of those safe “just kidding” lines.

We both know that’s not going to happen because Laura and I have an agreement. Well actually, I came up with a plan, and, Laura, well, quite frankly, Laura doesn’t really have a choice. I know this sounds like a dictatorship, but like I tell Laura, she will thank me some day. Not tomorrow or the next day, but some day.

This is the plan: Laura will go to college immediately upon her high school graduation and will complete a bachelor’s degree of her choice within a reasonable amount of time.

Four-year degrees are imperative in today’s word. An advanced degree would certainly be welcome, too.

As her parent, I agree to provide Laura with a roof over her head should she need it during these college years, and, what the heck, I’ll feed her too. I’ll also help her get a car so she can get back and forth to her classes and I’ll pay for some of the cost of her education, but not all. Parents need to help finance their children’s education, but being a first-generation college graduate, I had the sole responsibility of paying back my student loans. Laura needs to invest in her own future as well.

For those of you who think this is a generous plan and say I should kick my daughter out on the street as soon as she turns 18, I can counter that argument, and there’s also a catch. The catch is that if Laura doesn’t go to college, then she’s on her own. She will have to support herself and I won’t help her buy a car.

This may sound cruel, too, but here’s my reasoning, and it’s not rocket science. I believe it’s far less expensive for me to support my daughter throughout her college years so she can secure a good career for herself. In the short run it will be hard. When I was working on my first college degree, it was tempting to want to quit school and work to make money. But in the long run, we will both win.

I believe that if I didn’t have a plan like this and my daughter didn’t go to college, then odds are that she would need even more financial assistance in the future, from me or the government, because she wouldn’t be able to make it in today’s world. Odds are also that she would eventually go to college, only then it would be more expensive. That’s why it’s better to get it right the first time whenever you can. Focus on the big picture.

Now that we’ve decided Laura’s going to college, getting her there is the part that concerns me. There are the issues of grades, extra-curricular activities, peer pressure, and, oh yes, Laura’s social life, and let’s not forget the big one for me, her moral values, all of which call for constant refocusing and prioritizing.

During the teen years, kids want to experiment, take risks and feel independent. These are not bad things if you turn them around and rephrase them into positive, goal-oriented things. Experimenting and taking risks can include academics and mean joining the debate team or just asking more questions in class. And being independent doesn’t necessarily mean rebelling. It can mean not being afraid to swim away from the shore, changing one’s attitude and friends for the better.

Think about it and start the year on the right foot!