Talking About a Teen’s Future
What do you want to do with the rest of your life? This is a hefty question! Some adults don’t even know the answer to that question, so imagine how it might overwhelm a youth. Teens have a hard time wrapping their head around the concept of their future, yet it is absolutely essential that they begin considering what they would like to do after high school almost as soon as they enter its doors. That doesn’t mean that freshmen need to start applying for colleges, but it does mean that parents and other adults have a responsibility to start planting seeds of conversation as time goes by.
Planting the Seeds
Parents and other adults close to youth should not miss opportunities for conversation that present themselves. If the school has a career day or fair, or the youth group visits the hospital, or an uncle begins a new job, these are the moments when you can ask your teen what he/she thought of those jobs or that field of work. Look at your teen’s strengths and/or things that they like to do. Help him/her to figure out how they can put these talents to work for them. For example, if they like music, maybe they would like to work in a music studio or if they like math, maybe they would like to be an accountant. Help a teen evaluate what they like – do they like to work with their hands? Do they like to work with others or do they prefer to be more independent? Do they like the outdoors or prefer to be at a desk? Just introducing these ideas and listening to their thoughts will help plant the seeds for their future. Every time you talk to a teen about his future you will need to give him time to digest the conversation – do not ask him the next day what he decided. Allow him to bring the topic up again or reintroduce it when another opportunity arises.
When a teen or youth shows interest in a certain career or job, you should take that opportunity to provide more information. Research that job (and related jobs) so that you can offer the teen more information. The Occupational Outlook Handbook (www.bls.gov/oco/) is a free resource provided by the Department of Labor that details what schooling is needed, what workers actually do on the job, working conditions, expected job prospects and earnings for almost every career available. This information is invaluable to a teen weighing different career paths. Additionally, there are many associations, both local and national, for thousands of occupations which could also be a wealth of information. Encourage your teen to ask people they know – friends, relatives, church members, neighbors – what they do for a living and what they like and don’t like about their chosen careers.
Thinking Through the Options
Once you have some research done, help your teen weigh the pros and cons for his different career interests. Ask him to make a list – on paper – displaying the pros and cons for each of his interests. Encourage him to consider schooling, earnings, work conditions, and prospects. Once he has a working list, suggest additional pros or cons that he might not have thought of.
One of the most important parts of determining a career path is considering what schooling needs to be obtained. Does he need a high school, college or technical school degree? If he requires college or technical schools, then researching those options should begin in his junior year. Experts suggest narrowing the choices to a diverse mix of about six to 10 schools where the odds range from low to high for gaining admission. It’s also very important that parents don’t discourage their teen based on limited finances. There are so many methods for obtaining financial aid that the possibilities are endless. To get more information about financial aid, you can speak to the high school counselor and the college’s financial aid office.
Making Sure it’s THEIR Decision
The ultimate decision lies with the teenager. Be sure not to push a teen in any specific direction. Really listen to the teen and resist the temptation to provide unsolicited advice. Even though their indecision may feel frustrating, adults should remember that developing decision-making and problem-solving skills is an essential part of their ability to become a responsible, independent, productive adult. Teens must be self-sufficient to truly be successful, and part of that is choosing their own future path. Remind teens that another part of being independent is knowing when and who to lean on, trust and respect, so their teacher’s advice might hold more water than their buddy’s advice.