I’m not sure what’s more stressful, being the student trying to work out what’s next after school, or the loved one trying to support them during this significant transition. Either way, there are some big decisions at hand for your teenager.
When confronted by their confused face and the question “What should I do?”, I’m sure you’d love nothing more than to give your child a simple answer that will ease their anxieties. However hard it feels, though, try to resist the urge to make decisions for them.
Instead, a more positive approach to take is to provide your child with the skills and information necessary to make choices for themselves. It’s wise to always remember that sometimes they will love their choice, and other times they’ll learn from it. Fostering this approach will strengthen your child’s confidence in their decision-making skills, kick-start their unique path-finding journey and prepare them for their future ahead.
Here are 5 ways to positively support your child in finding their path after school:
1. Ask Helpful Questions
Instead of asking, “What do you want to do after school”, replace it with a question that will help them figure this out. Here are a few suggestions…
“What are you interested in?”
“What do you feel passionate about?”
“How would you like to contribute to the world?”
“What do you enjoy doing at school?”
“If you weren’t worried about failing what would you choose?”
“Who do you most look up to and why?”
2. Normalise the Emotions
It’s stressful not knowing what to decide. No matter the age and no matter the transition, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed by the unknown. It’s important that we speak about this with young people. Often they look to adults, assuming they have it all figured out. They aren’t told honestly enough that finding our life’s purpose and passions can be a long road that often takes years.
While some school-leavers will know what they want to do, those who don’t know can feel like failures. It’s important these students understand that there is nothing wrong with them and they should not be expected to have their lives mapped out as they walk out of the school gates for the last time. Empathise with them by sharing a time you found it difficult making a decision and explain that these times pass, and then – they happen again and again!
3. Learn the Options
There’s an endless number of options for graduates to consider these days. Plus recent research has found that 65% of graduates will work in jobs that don’t yet exist (David Stillman, Generational Expert). No wonder making a decision can be stressful! A great starting point is breaking down these many choices into four key categories: working, traveling, studying or following a different path. Then, once they’ve selected from these, they can explore the various choices within that field.
In today’s world, it’s perfectly normal for students to explore all of these four key pathways in varying orders.. Also, know it’s common to change your mind over the course of the year. Stay supportive and interested throughout the decision-making process and open to the idea of them selecting a path that best suits their individual personality and interests.
4. Encourage Support Networks
While the home can be a great base for making important decisions, a lot of inspiration and information can also be learned from the outside world. Encourage your child to reach out to others and explore external resources as a way of understanding their options.
A good starting point is the abundant amount of information available online. Other useful networks include career counsellors, friends, family members, teachers and others who care about your child and can help support them in fleshing out their options and decisions.
If you notice signs of anxiety or depression it’s important you encourage your child to speak with a mental health professional or to contact Beyond Blue or Lifeline, which are free services in Australia.
5. Support them to Decide
At all costs, empower your child to make a positive decision for themselves. You can do this by focusing on your child’s ability to make a decision and steering them in the directions (as discussed above) where they have the options and support to do so.
In other words, avoid trumping their decisions, give them space to examine and explore their options and offer them the confidence and encouragement to try different things so they can work out what they love. Lastly, assure your child you’ll support them with their decision. If things work out, great! If not – it’s simply time to choose again.
Written by Positive Psychologist Amba Brown, author of Finding Your Path, A guide to life and happiness after school.