‘Tis the season for holiday celebrations and for early admission deadlines … Fa la la la la. Parents with teens in their last years of high school are often every bit as wrapped up in thoughts of standardized tests, the stresses of whether applications are going to be completed on time, and money concerns, as they are in visions of sugarplums. And those are the lucky parents whose kids actually have some idea of where they want to go and what they might want to do after high school graduation. Beginning preparation for the “life after high school” transition with young teens can help reduce some of this stress.
For parents with youngsters in their early or middle teen years high school graduation and its aftermath may seem low on the list of immediate concerns. While it certainly makes sense to focus on pressing matters like keeping your daughter from cyber-humiliation or making certain that your son passes sixth grade social studies, there are also some simple ways to begin to prepare your young teen for life outside the sanctuary of your basement.
Help Your Child begin to Visualize what Life will be Like after High School
Most parents want their children to seek some kind of additional education followed by self-sustaining employment after high school. Frankly, if parents want their kids living somewhere other than their basement, this is essential.
- Talk to your young teen frequently about what it will be like when he or she goes to college or to technical school. It can be a short, even one-sided, conversation that occurs in bursts over a very long period of time. Speculate out loud about the types of experiences, classes, and friendships your teen might enjoy. Suggest the types of places he or she might live and the skills they will need to have.
- Stay positive and act as if you are confident that things will go well, even if you might not be certain. Those parents who have teens that are on track to follow the mainstream path to education and success still need to provide ample support and reassurance. While parents whose children have mental or physical challenges or simply the determination to take a more circuitous route to arrive at the next stage, may also need to add the provision of limits and the need for patience to that list. Young people are resilient. It is not at all uncommon for them to turn things around and attain an unanticipated level of success with time and maturity.
Visit a College, University and/or Technical School with Your Teen Before they are at the Stage where they Need to Think About Applying
- Don’t worry whether it is a school that your teen is ever likely to attend. The purpose of this visit is to make this type of environment and experience feel familiar. When the time comes that your teen needs to begin to explore next steps after high school, the process is a bit less stressful if he or she is acclimated to what that type of environment might be like.
- Make the visit(s) fun. There are many great campus activities available to the public, frequently at a low cost, so it is often very easy to find something that might be appealing to your teen. Even if you didn’t go to college or technical school yourself, you should not hesitate to take advantage of campus resources and offerings. Institutions of higher learning in the U.S. have to compete for students. They provide a service and they want your attention. Walk through campus, relax in a common outdoor area, visit the student center, shop in the college store, eat in a cafeteria or café, check out the library, attend a concert or a theater production, or enjoy a sporting event. When it comes time for your teen to enter this new environment after high school, familiarity and good feelings will help him or her to feel more secure.
Provide Reassurance and Express Confidence that Your Young Teen will have the Ability to Handle Independence When the Time Comes
Ultimately, the decision of what to do with his or her life belongs to your teen and that is a terrifying concept. Even children and young teens need frequent reassurance as they contemplate their unknown future.
- Even the youngster who says that “her parents drive her crazy and she can’t wait until she is old enough to be on her own” is likely frightened. Anticipate and accept the push and pull of adolescence and don’t be fooled. Express that you expect that separating from home and family will be challenging, even if your teen indicates otherwise, but that you do agree that he or she will be able to handle it.
- In contrast, the young teen who fears he or she will never be able to handle leaving home needs to hear that when the time comes, he or she will be in a different place in life. Point out a challenging experience that your teen survived when he or she was younger, such as a daunting week of sleepover camp, playing on the select team, or entering middle school. Remind your young person how, when the time came, he or she made it through and did fine.
As the current year comes to a close and the New Year begins, give yourself and your teen the gift of exploring their bright and hopeful future. Just as you buttoned them into “dress up” clothes during their preschool years, help your teens to “try on” life after high school by imagining and envisioning themselves within a new environment, experiencing a new adventure.
Article by Becky Mather
Becky is an Outreach Specialist for the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Much of her work centers on parenting education and adolescent development. She and her husband are the parents of two young adults and a 13 year old son. Becky is a Certified Family Life Educator.