It ain’t college, it’s the real world!

It’s that time of the year… the glimmer and glam pave the way from prom to the pomp and circumstance of graduation as girls are marching beyond high school, off to realize dreams. And as a great number of our girls continue to march their way on to college campuses, far too often they do so guided by the philosophy that a college degree will be their passport to the real world. It’s true, a college degree does afford entry into greater opportunities. However, we have got to halt the perpetuating send off that says personal control over their livelihood is on hold until they return home from a 4 year stint of academic and social revelry.

The truth is,  without getting too deep into the metaphysical, the moment they leave home and have to make choices independent of parental direction or adult dictation, girls (or more appropriately young women) have stepped into their real world.

When I made my transition to college, I remember clinging desperately to lessons from the closest ideal of college life I had, the television hit show, A Different World. That show dealt with almost every possible issue a Black girl could experience on college campus.

Just like then, we should equip girls with a few key beliefs as they make their way in the real world. While A Different World is still a media resource full of lessons for our girls heading off to college campus, they also need a dose of reality. Here is a vital list of mind sets our girls must adopt when heading to college real world:

Be enterprising: tap into an innate gift and skill set to earn supplemental income while away at college. From fashion design, hair and nails, blogging, makeup, tutoring, photography there are tons of ideas for dorm room enterprise. This income can be used at their discretion to fund clothing and personal hygiene expenses; spring/summer break excursions; or general expenses. Furthermore, this is money that can be saved for major investments right after college. Think first home, relocation, car, stocks.

Be a conscious consumer: Never too early to learn this! But college is definitely an opportune time to harness power over the dollars young women spend. Take a critical lens to brands which attempt to influence loyalty without much accountability nor personal return. Look at the brands that support causes and community initiatives that are relevant to you as a consumer. And take special note of brands that offer paid interns to college students like you.

Have an open mind: There are millions of perspectives and viewpoints beyond what you were raised around. Be open to gaining new experiences and getting to know people from various backgrounds whose beliefs and perspectives may be completely different than what you are familiar with. Expand your perception.

Be intentional: There will be plenty competing for your time and attention. Everything from classes to social clubs to campus involvement. Be sure whatever you devote your time to is intentional and aligned with the goals you have set for yourself. Joining organizations, like a sorority, should be given careful consideration so that it is not about popularity or hanging out, but connected to your future career and community service goals. Even your travels and breaks should be intentional. Yes, it would be fun to party in Miami for Spring break, but remember you can gain some international exposure as well. Many universities offer study abroad courses; perfect for those looking to secure a career in foreign relations, global diversity, government, teaching, etc.

Be healthy! Your health is real from the moment you take your first breath, and it becomes all the more important with every new plateau you reach. The “freshman 15” is real…mentally and physically your body must adjust to its new environment. Weight gain, stress, new sleeping patterns all have an impact. Stay fit. Take advantage of your campus recreation and health care facilities.

Be protective…and selective! Take precautions to become familiar with your campus  AND surrounding areas. Being on college campus does not mean young women will be immune to real world risks. From natural disasters to sexual relations, young women MUST be prepared. Become familiar with emergency plan on school’s website. Know safe routes when walking alone or at night. Be aware of areas off campus that may pose risks such as robberies, rape, etc. Observe new acquaintances to see who is trustworthy, as well as to see who exhibits self love. Be wary of those who have destructive tendencies (drinking, drugs, bad study habits). Also, be proactive in your intimate relationships. Protect yourself. Remember STI’s and unplanned pregnancy are most high on college campuses. Dating violence is also a factor, so again be keenly aware of acquaintances and their behaviors. Have your safe stash with emergency money, condoms, up to date prescriptions for medications, emergency contacts and numbers.

A few websites to check out for safety:

RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network)

The SIWE Project

Planned Parenthood

Black Youth Project

Federal Emergency Management Agency

This list is just a start. What else should be included? What words of wisdom should our girls pack in their luggage heading to their “real world?” Share in the comments below.

Oh and just for fun, here are a few of my favorite “life-lesson” Different World episodes:

 

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Babies Having Babies: Preventing teen pregnancy for Girls Like Me

May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. Doing our part, we are featuring a guest blogger to spread awareness and prevent more Girls Like Me from entering motherhood too soon.
Teen Pregnancy: Decisions, decisions and your support system
Becoming a parent, exploring adoption, or thinking about abortion are all issues of complexity for adults. Imagine having to make one of these decisions as a teen; it becomes even more frightening and complex. That was and is my reality still today. Growing up in Gary, Ind., girls like me didn’t get stimulated by schoolwork. As a matter of fact, I was an ‘A’ student. So in the midst of “kickin’ it” and doing what I viewed as no big deal, I found myself in a tight situation. Pregnant at 16.

While teen pregnancy has decreased in the past decade, the numbers haven’t dropped enough. Recent research shows that 39.1 of every 1,000 births are to that of teen mothers. Additionally, three out of 10 young women become parents before the age of 20. I became a part of that statistic several years ago when I found myself a teen mother twice by the age of 18. At that age, one should be focused on furthering their education, finding employment and gaining the tools necessary in order to function in the real world. National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month focuses on the need to continue to increase the awareness of both teens and adults during the month of May.

One of the most vital parts to increasing awareness is to offer teens real-life examples and experiences such as mine to nurture the thought process of understanding that SEX HAS CONSEQUENCES! While pregnancy is not the only risk associated with having sex, it is one that I have learned has one of the greatest impacts. Becoming a parent at 16 left me with an array of decisions to make. For starters, how would I be able to provide for myself and a child at such a young age? As a teen parent I had to learn through trial and error. One of the most important elements in being able to have a chance at successful parenting is your support system. A strong support system can better equip you in making the right decisions. At the time, I had a weak support system. My parents did very little to help me. However that lack of strength in my support system motivated me to do more to help myself and my child.

Times change the same as societal views. It’s no longer taboo to be openly sexually active. Teens are usually misinformed by friends, television, music and so on about sex or just don’t take time to acknowledge the repercussions that exist. Dealing with the decisions that arise if one becomes pregnant requires a level of maturity, so does the choice to have sex. But why create such a burden for yourself when there are so many alternatives? It is unrealistic to believe that teens aren’t having sex, hence the need to continue to promote and strengthen awareness among our teens. I lacked the maturity level, the education, and resources to effectively handle the situation. With that being said however, once it’s done, it’s done. You have little time to think of what to do and explore options. The bottom line is that the choice to engage in sex is a decision that has to be made with a level of maturity. As a teen you usually are not equipped to make the right decision. My advice to all teens is to educate, educate and, educate some more. Educate yourself and your peers. Be your own person. Never do things because your friends are doing it or out of fear of being rejected by your peers. Succumbing to peer pressure is for lames. Remember, only you will be left with the consequences. Familiarize yourself with healthy alternatives to sex. If you decide that you are ready to have sex, make sure that you educate yourself on ways to protect yourself. And in the event that you are faced with becoming a young parent, use that as tool to motivate yourself to succeed and build a better future for your child. That’s what I did. I love being a parent; it is one of the primary motivators for me becoming a better person every day. Life’s challenges and experiences help shape the individuals we become.

Don’t just increase teen pregnancy prevention in the month of May, increase awareness every day.
PhatPhat writes on her blog, phatphatmemoirs.blogspot.com, regularly and continues to learn and live each day while sharing her experiences to help us all become better people. The PhatPhat Memoirs book series will be published Fall 2012.
You can do your part to help in the cycle of teen pregnancy.