Between graduation festivities, college acceptance letters, and the rising thermometer, spring is an incredibly exciting time for high school seniors. But just behind that exhilaration can be a fair amount of anxiety and confusion – perhaps even fear.
Because not everyone is going off to college or starting down the path toward their dreams.
Plenty of graduates have no idea about their next steps and are feeling lost as they watch their friends’ and classmates’ futures unfold.
And behind each of these struggling young adults is a mother, equally anxious about her child’s future. If that’s you, here’s how to deal:
Though it might not seem like it on the exterior, your teen is struggling with this as much as you are. Getting angry, short-tempered, or applying intense pressure for them to propel themselves forward will likely alienate them or paralyze them to inaction rather than encourage them toward meaningful direction. Be firm and compassionate about their need to solidify their future plans.
Be open about the situation.
Don’t try to avoid the fact that they are directionless hoping that the situation will resolve itself, but instead communicate openly and gently. Send the message that you are available for support and love, but that things will also change now that they no longer have the “job” of being a full-time student in high school.
Try this: “I know this must be a difficult time for you, feeling lost while a lot of your friends have their plans in place for next year. I want to help you and have some ideas on how we can figure this out together, but we need to talk about what that’s going to look like.”
Ask for their input.
With a high school graduate in your home, your relationship with your child is likely shifting a bit. You need to communicate in a way that respects their growing autonomy while still acknowledging your authority.
When you speak with your child, don’t just tell them what to do, but also ask them what they need. Take this into consideration as you craft a plan together to help them figure out their direction.
Try this: “What do you think you need in order to help you figure out what your next step is? How can I help support you through this process?”
Make work a requirement.
If your young adult son or daughter has no immediate plans, make it clear that they need to work as a condition of living at home. Work is so much more than simply a way to make money – it’s a way to develop purpose, maintain dignity, and have daily structure. If paid work isn’t available, identify work around the house that needs to be done, or tasks at your friends’ or neighbors’ houses that need attention.
Make it clear that productivity in some form is a condition of staying in your home.
Use web resources.
The internet has infinite career assessments, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The key is to find a direction that your child is excited about, not necessarily what a computerized quiz tells them they’d be good at. This takes work.
Encourage them to spend some time on the Bureau of Labor and Statistics website (plug a career into the “search” bar in the upper right-hand corner) to learn more about individual careers. Take it a step further by looking up interesting careers on onetonline.org, where they can see more details about specific work activities they’d be doing, skills and aptitudes they’ll need to be successful, physical requirements of the job, and even personal values that help in that type of position. They can even see the expected salary based on state of residence, along with the expected job outlook.
In choosing a career it’s critical to have eyes wide open. Can I make enough money to support myself or a family? Are there jobs available? Does this career have a ladder I can climb, or is it a dead end? Encourage them to spend focused time doing their research.
Rent isn’t necessarily money. While that will help your young adult learn responsibility, it won’t really help them land on a direction for their future. Consider charging “rent” (all or in part) in the form of hours of career research, job shadow time, or a certain number of job or college applications each week or each month.
Consider community college.
Community colleges offer lots of affordable, technical, job-focused training opportunities, many of which put their graduates on a track to an in-demand career and great wages. They also offer general education classes for those more likely to transfer and work toward a bachelor’s degree.
Most also offer some level of career support and counseling for students trying to land on a major. But remember – education for education’s sake won’t lead to direction. It must be an active process, supplemented with good career research.
Set up regular times to check in and touch base. The difficult conversations don’t just happen one time. They are ongoing. Speak honestly, openly, firmly, but also compassionately. Talking about their progress and activities not only demonstrates your support of their journey, but also provides them with a level of accountability that they’ve been sticking to the plan you agreed upon.
There’s no denying that this process is a tough one – both for the 18-year-old who’s struggling to decide their whole future and the frustrated, nervous parent behind them. It takes work, it takes time, it takes effort.
It doesn’t just happen.
And that’s why, even though they’re technically an adult, they still need your help.
Is your child struggling to find direction, or have you parented a child who went through this? What advice would you give to other mothers in this situation?