I am troubled as an educational counselor when I come across a student who hasn’t really experienced life in the real world. Sadly, I have to report that it is more common than you might imagine.
The parents of these kids often operate at opposite ends of the continuum. The laid-back parents surround their kids in a bubble-like existence – protected from themselves and from others. These parents want their kids to be happy. They want them to have fun. They screen any potential problems or consequences. Thus these kids don’t challenge themselves. They take dumbed down high school classes, hang with the youth group, and play video games. They never really get out in the real world and figure it out. I have found this route doesn’t make kids happy even though it looks like fun.
At the other end of the scale are the ambitious parents who follow someone else’s checklist of “Things Teens MUST Do To Get Into Good Colleges.” These kids are forced to follow THE LIST and compile a killer resume that reeks of academic competition wins, multiple 5’s on AP tests, and near professional competency in an extracurricular activity only to realize they don’t really like any of the school subjects they performed so well in and don’t have a clue what they want to do with their life. These parents have mistakenly believed that real life is found in tests and competitions. This route doesn’t promote happiness or fun.
Either approach leads to some pretty unrealistic living.
Real living is messy and dirty and often filled with mistakes. It is trying things that seem impossible and sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing. It is caring enough to make a difference. It is chasing something fascinating all the way to the end, whatever that end might be, good or bad. Real living asks that we help our kids confront themselves honestly – to celebrate the things they like, but also work actively to change the things they don’t.
Real living is about pushing up against perceived boundaries until they find their true potential. And the possibilities are much larger and richer than most students or parents realize. I’ve worked with kids for over thirty years now and I can promise you that most teens are capable of much more than people give them credit for! How can we help our kids really live?
Follow the Rabbit Trails
From the time my kids were small, we chased these trails. Interested in nature? We bought butterfly nets, rock picks, magnifying glasses, and microscopes and then proceeded to explore. Interested in crocheting? We bought yarn, enlisted grandma’s help, bought how-to books and mastered the skill. Interested in history? Three huge bookshelves later, we’ve read through most of the major time periods. Interested in physics? We found a mentor at the local college and for years my son spent several hours a week in his lab. Austin was eight when this started.
Built up a Repository of Experiences
When kids are young, rabbit trails are pretty much about skill development. I would see an interest flicker and quickly follow up with books, tools, and teachers. Our life was rich in experience. They became competent at many things from academic subjects to hobbies to public speaking. They were trying on different skills and discovering what they were good at as well as figuring out they could become good at something important if they worked hard enough.
As they get older, the trails become possible career paths. Be forewarned that you have to invest time and often money to get a clear picture of where this kid should head. Often you are a ways down the trail before you discover that you are chasing the wrong one. Sometimes interest dies and the trail ends. But, when rabbit trail turns into larger road, it is time to job shadow.
In my experience, most kids try on many possible selves before they find the one that fits. They take the interests and skills they’ve developed over the years and experiment to see which one is the real deal. When they have developed competency in an area and are fairly sure this might be a good fit, it is time to hang out with people who do this for a living. They need to start by doing the research to discover what the educational requirements are for this career, what the starting salary is, what kind of a future does this career have, and what the lifestyle is like as a new professional (most new lawyers are shocked at the 80 hours a week they are required to put in). They can talk to parent’s friends or someone at church who is in that career. They can request an interview with a professional they don’t know to get a feel for the job. Later, they can ask to spend the day following them around and maybe volunteer in their lab or business. The more your students submerse themselves in the career they are considering, the better the choices they will make for their future. Next time we’ll look at a specific example of how one student tried on many careers before settling on one.
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