Planning for the Future with Your Teen
Do you remember what it was like to be a Junior or Senior in high school? While we all have our own experiences, many of us in the baby boomers, gen x and millennials were told, we could be anything. All we have to do is work hard, show up, and stick to a path. Go to school, get good grades so you can go to college, get a good job. This job would afford you the financial freedom to find a partner, get married, establish a household and support a family. Before the computer era, our parents worked hard, physically. The dream was to find a job where you could sit at a desk, in doors, temperature controlled. An environment that kept you out of the sun, that allowed for self-care and a nine to five that would allow you to be home with your family. As opposed to the 12-hour days on the farm or 10-hour days in the factory.
With the invention of the computer and the shift toward everything becoming digital. We've lost the balance our parents and grandparents yearned for us to have. The digital age has taken over full force and the majority of us have become slaves to our computers and devices. While the physical toll isn't the same as it was on our parents. Sedentary lives are still detrimental to our health in other new ways we never imagined.
Now fast forward to the pandemic. Everyone one moving their offices into their homes, working remotely and the boundaries of nine to five have seemed to blur. Children being picked up from school, only to feel isolated in their own home, as mom and dad work from home. Watching their parents physically struggle with immobility and obesity that the sedentary lives have created. Parents feeling the pressure of paying bills for the house and things their jobs have provided, being slaves to the college debt that they are still paying off 20 years after they have graduated… all for what? To have things, and debt that pull you away from your relationships? To have a job that is more important than your own health?
As we embark on 2022, two years post the start of the pandemic, the world has drastically changed. The impact of the pandemic on adults and small children is rather clear. However, the impact this pandemic has had on our teens/young adults has been rather silent.
Now, imagine being a teen at the start of the pandemic. It's your Junior or Senior year of high school - the world has just opened up to you, and the pandemic hits. All social ties have been severed at a time when you're supposed to be navigating relationships and conflicts. Imagine the most challenging subjects you experienced in high school, moving to online learning. Not having the kid next to you to ask questions, or the girl you had a crush on to tutor you between classes. Imagine being locked in your home all day, with little to no social interaction. Imagine watching your parents struggle to adapt to working from home and work life balance, paranoid about losing their jobs that they've worked so hard their entire lives to get. Now imagine being an A/B student, suddenly falling behind at school, getting C's and D's because the online learning platform has failed them. Mentors you may have relied on in school, such as coaches, teachers and school counselors, all inaccessible. Social activities canceled, soccer practice, dance class, marching band, drama, art class, all canceled.
It's no wonder our children are struggling with depression and anxiety. They too have been told to follow this societal norm of go to school, get good grades, go to college… on and on. But for what!? To end up like their parents, burnt out, exhausted, unhealthy and in debt. And even if they wanted to continue down this path, the hole the pandemic has created feels monumental and impossible to crawl out of. I'm seeing 18yr olds, who should have graduated at 17th, frustrated to the point of wanting to check out of life, because they see no hope. They feel like failures, they have failed classes, they haven't been able to keep up and they don't realize that they are not alone. Being socially isolated. Every single one of these 19yr olds who are having an existential crisis, ready to go rogue or take their lives, has no idea that they are part of a national crisis created by the pandemic. They don't fully comprehend that what we are living through right now, is not the norm. They see the future being dim and impossible given the constraints they have been asked to live within.
Because of this, I'm seeing more and more teens seeking pathways away from standardized learning, desk jobs and the corporate world. Some are eager to remove themselves from the trauma that is high school and jump right into getting a GED. Not seeing the need for a traditional education when they have everything they ever need to know in their pocket, thank you to YouTube. Others are so terrified of the jail that is the 'home office' that they are actively looking for jobs that take them outside and provide the opportunity to do physical labor. Others are heart set on content creation or entrepreneurship. All of which are viable career paths!
This shift is not surprising. What is surprising is the response these teens are receiving from their parents and guardians. Many parents/guardians are in survival mode themselves. Aware of their teen's struggles but disconnected from the reality that they are living in. Having to have these stressful conversations can be devastating and emotional for all involved. Below are some helpful guidelines to make these talks more productive for both parties:
●Set aside dedicated time in a neutral environment for the most effective conversation (This is not a conversation to have on the way home in the car, at the dinner table or when you're able to corner them into their room). Make it a fun activity, think of it as a get to know you session. Do things you would do if you were to go on a date, go for a walk, take an outing to get FroYo or Dutch Bros.
●Start the conversation with: What do you want your life to look like? Do you want to travel, do you want a family, do you want to work 9-5 or do you want to work four tens? What kind of car do you want to drive? Where do you want to live? Let conversations develop as self-discovery and brainstorming sessions, using open ended questions and leaving space for reflection.
●Put yourself in their shoes and vice versa. Examine your own motivations for wanting a different future for your child. Make a point to explain why you're so passionate about college, what benefits it's afforded you. Then listed as they rebuttal with their own thoughts. You might be surprised by their perspective.
●Have both parties come prepared with research as needed? For example, if a teen is wanting to pursue their GED. Have they checked to see that it will qualify them for their future career choice? Compare timelines, finances and expectations based on solid data. This is most effective when the teen can be responsible for finding these answers and making their own choices with that information.
●Let your child dream big. This is a time of self-discovery!You may learn something new from your child. Sometimes the best mirror we have is our offspring.
Keep in mind the true goal is to provide the tools needed to allow your teen to make good decisions and develop into an empowered, confident adult. Giving them the space to plan and explore a future path, even when it is different than what you expected, will help them develop a forward-thinking perspective that will serve them well throughout their life.
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