How To Empower Your Teen To Make Great Decisions About Their Future
Parents’ concern about their teens’ future is justified. In my work as a career coach and a mother of four young adults, I am regularly hearing stories from parents that would make you weep. Sad stories of their adult children just floating aimlessly without a purpose, in and out of courses and jobs and in many cases suffering from low self-esteem, lack of confidence, anxiety or what is now referred to as ‘low mood’. Often this has a corrosive effect on otherwise great family relationships. The sad thing is that many young people just got off to a bad start after leaving school even though they got good or even great exam results. It seems unfair. I believe that in many ways young people are being set up to fail.
While the research shows that the national drop-out rate for first year students in college is about 15%, or 1 in 6, it can be as high as 70% on some specialised courses. In addition to this, research also shows that of those who continue with their college course, more than 50% admit that they chose the wrong career path. Pretty shocking when you think of it. The bottom line is that the course doesn’t interest them, and they can’t see a future for themselves in their field of study. Insufficient research is often cited as a reason for young people choosing the wrong course but without knowing what one wants, it is like looking for a needle in a hay stack. Figuring out what you want to do with your life requires a level of self-knowledge that is not facilitated in school.
The good news is that parents can do a lot to help. In fact, it’s been shown that parents serve as a major influence in their teens career development and career decision-making. The bad news is that we influence our children without being aware of it. Most is learned unconsciously – absorbing our attitudes and expectations of them as they grow up. So, it’s important that we have a positive rather than a negative influence. Teens so often want to please parents.
Here are some tips to get you started. There are two elements - helping your teen get to know and appreciate himself/herself and, in the process, develop skills that will serve him well throughout his life.
Step 1. In order to help our teens, we need to start by looking at ourselves. Probably the most important thing that we, as parent, must remember is that this is our teens life, not ours. Therefore, we absolutely must avoid imposing our own career goals or unlived dreams on our children. Not so easy though. We need to become aware of where we really stand on this issue. Ask yourself how you would feel if your teen told you that he saw his future in an area that you personally saw no future in. How would you react? A negative reaction will most likely ensure that your teen will no longer want to discuss possible career options with you.
Step 2. Next, assuming that you have come to terms with the fact that this is about your teen’s life, start discussions early as it is more likely that better decision-making will result. 15-year olds are generally ready to start thinking about their future. Talk to your teen about what he envisages doing after finishing school. Using open-questions (those that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no), ask about any concerns he may have. Offer your support but only as an ear or sounding board. It is important to listen and not shoot down ideas that your teen has about his future.
Step 3. Start the process of helping him discover who he is: dreams, interests, values, skills, and strengths. Tell him what he is good at. Look out for times when your teen is absorbed in what he is doing. This may be a clue as to where his interests and strengths lie. Likewise, energy levels provide strong clues as to what drives or motivates us and what doesn’t. Dreams, provided that they are not totally unrealistic, should be explored.
Step 4. Help your teen learn from experience. Both positive and negative experiences help us learn something new about ourselves. So, when things are going great and your teen is in a particularly good mood, ask what it is about the situation that he likes or that excites him. And when things don’t work out as expected, use it too as an opportunity to learn - negative experiences can be very powerful when we decide to analyse what went wrong and how to adapt our approach in the future.
Work experience can also provide lots of opportunity for learning. And while the aim is to increase your teen’s level of self-knowledge, we are at the same time helping to develop resilience - the capacity to recover quickly from difficulty - an essential life and career skill. Turning setbacks into opportunities is wonderful preparation for the world of work.
These simple yet powerful strategies can be implemented at any time. If you are looking for tailored help & advice, please contact me by email to learn how I can support both parents and teens on this journey of self-discovery with the view to identifying the career path that is the best fit.