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New Report Reveals Big Mismatch in Expectations ahead of University

Parents and teenagers are on different wavelengths about how ready they are for university life, a report from Unite Students reveals today.

While 16-19 year olds are giving themselves A* grades for their life skills, sceptical parents of 16-19 year olds are giving their children a C. 

The new research of 1,000 parents[i] and 1,000 teenagers[ii] found:

  • Only 55% of the parents of 16-19 year olds polled think that their child is able to cook a meal from scratch on their own, but over three-quarters (78%) of teenagers are confident they can.
  • 39% of parents think their children won’t wash their bedsheets more than once a month, but 84% of teenagers say they will. And a quarter of parents (25%) don’t even think their children can change their bedsheets on their own.
  • Almost three quarters (72%) of the parents of 16-19 year olds polled think that it is likely that they will expect to lend money to their children before the end of the first term, but only a third (33%) of teenagers expect to borrow from their parents – and 80% of teenagers are confident they can manage their money.

Parents and teenagers also disagree about discussions they’ve had ahead of going to university.

Many parents polled claim to have offered advice about a range of sensitive issues: 45% say they’ve spoken to their children about sex, 35% mental health, 42% relationships, 54% drugs and 58% alcohol. 

Yet far fewer teenagers polled say their parents have offered them this advice. Just 23% have been given advice on sex or mental health, 28% on relationships, 34% on drugs and 42% on alcohol. 1 in 7 (14%) teenagers say they haven’t been given advice on any of these things.

In the month in which most students have received conditional offers, Unite Students is urging parents and teenagers to start having frank conversations now about getting ready to make ‘the leap’ to university.

Unite Students’ Head of Student Services and Insight Jenny Shaw said:

“A lot of parents worry their children will flunk the life skills test when they make the leap to university and live on their own. Every year we help 50,000 students make this big move. It’s true many do get a bit of a shock to the system initially, but with a little planning, most quickly adapt and do well and we’re always there to offer support and practical advice.

“Our research also suggests some parents may be overly focusing on their children’s practical skills at the expense of having conversations about more tricky stuff, like sex, mental health, drugs and alcohol. Now’s the time to have these honest chats – because it will be even harder after they’ve moved away.”

Liz Fraser, parenting writer and broadcaster, has one daughter at university and another due to go this autumn.

“Leaving home is one of the most exciting but challenging times in anyone’s life,” she said. “I lived through this as a student 25 years ago and I’m now doing so again as a parent. It’s really struck me how much the world has changed and how much more pressure students feel under socially and emotionally. 

“It’s made me realise just what a complex time this is and how much support and advice they need. In the social-media obsessed, unpredictable world our children are moving into, it’s important to give them the best chance at making this giant leap – and landing on their feet. We need to put more ‘sharenting’ into our parenting”.

The surveys on behalf of Unite Students found other areas in which parents fret about their children’s basic housekeeping credentials: 

  • 39% don’t think they can wash their clothes and 50% don’t think they can iron them (compared to 79% and 78% of teenagers feeling confident about this)
  • 20% don’t think they can do basic cleaning and 21% don’t think they can use a vacuum cleaner (compared to 95% and 98% of teenagers feeling confident about this)
  • 18% don’t even think their children can make their bed (compared to 97% of teenagers feeling confident about this)

The good news is, based on research by Unite Students in 2016 among more than 13,000 students, their confidence in managing things like finances and household chores grows throughout their university life. For example, confidence in washing their own clothes increased from 61% in their first year to 80% in their third year. 

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