Spring can be an exciting time for families. This is especially true when you have kids in the upper high school grades.
Juniors are often beginning to think about what they want to do in a year after they graduate from high school. And as seniors excitedly watch the weather warm up, they begin to realize just how close they are to graduation. Along with their excitement comes some trepidation.
Older kids may be wrestling with big questions such as, “What am I going to do when I graduate from high school?” or “Are my grades and test scores strong enough to get me where I want to go?”
It’s an exciting yet stressful for time for our older kids.
As parents, it can be easy to start thinking that our kids have become so independent that they need us far less than they did when they were younger. It’s true that they’ve developed many skills related to independence. We trust them with cars and they’ve developed the skills needed to obtain and hold a job. However, when it comes to long-term thinking and goal setting, the teen brain is still developing.
Our older teens guidance when it comes to planning for their long-term future. As parents and trusted adults, there are many things we can do to guide and assistance them in their thinking.
1. Help your child identify his or her talents and interests.Kids tend to focus on identifying the next step without considering all the long-term implications. All too often, I have kids tell me they are planning on going to college but they have no idea what they plan to study. If we can begin by helping kids identify their interests and talents, they will be able to better identify what the next step may be — whether that’s college, community college or a work experience.
2. Talk about the future in both short- and long-term perspectives. The reality for this generation is that they will likely have jobs that don’t yet exist in the workforce. However, most kids feel pressured to decide now on a career they will have throughout a lifetime. Engage kids in career fields before you talk about specific jobs. For example: “What might you like about working in a health care field? How would your talents help you in this field?” Once you have the big picture conversations, you can discuss a starting place by asking, “What might be a good first step into this field?
3. Share how your career and life choices have impacted your life. Kids tend to focus on one thing at a time. They may identify what they believe is the “perfect” career, but not realize it will require them to work nights and weekends. Ask your child to think beyond just a job or a school; ask them to think about quality of life. “What type of life do you want to have in the future? What choices can you make now that will help take steps in that direction?”
4. Have these conversations MULTIPLE times! As kids think and reflect, their ideas change. It’s not uncommon for a teenager to have a well-developed plan one week that is totally gone the next as a new idea moves forward. Realize that these rapid changes are positive. It shows that your child is thinking and reflecting upon your conversations.
Scott Butler has been a professional educator for 30 years. He has worked as a classroom teacher, school counselor and school administrator. Additionally, Scott is a licensed mental health practitioner. He is currently the director of the Boys Town Day School. He is father to four kids ranging from 14 to 22. Outside of work, he is an avid gardener and quilter.