Sunday, March 15, 2015

Is your Teen Really Ready for College?

College has become something of a difficult subject to deal with these days. It’s clear that finding real professional success and enjoying the middle class American lifestyle just isn’t possible without some sort of formal post secondary education. It actually doesn’t have much to do with a student’s abilities or talents- it’s just become the lowest common denominator in the educational world. Forty years ago, it was perfectly acceptable for a student out of high school to consider on the job training rather than college. By the time the 1990s rolled around, though, things had changed. 

That leaves us with an important consideration that really has to be addressed. That question is whether or not your teenager is actually ready for college. They might well have gone through all the college prep classes that the high school they attended offered, but that doesn’t mean that they’re actually ready to make the jump to college. With costs spiraling out of control, and the job market ever tightening, student loan debt crippling families for generations, there’s a lot to be said for taking that time between high school graduation in June and the start of classes in September to take stock of life, figure out what’s going on, and then determine what way to go.

As parents, we simply shouldn’t have much say in some of those matters. Sure, you might be paying into some of that education. You may be footing the bill for the whole thing- but if your kid comes out of their second year and can’t figure out if they want to be a business person or a children’s book illustrator, then you’ve got bigger problems than a lazy teenager sitting around the house all summer long. You might be confronted with two years’ worth of wasted education. Sure, giving your kid the reins to their own future might feel a bit like aiming the gun at your foot and pulling the trigger, but if you’ve done your job as a parent for the first 18 years, what they do as an adult shouldn’t really bother you that much. By the same token, it shouldn’t bother you that much if your teenager decides that they want to hold off on college for a few months to make sure that they know what path they want to take in life.

Let’s say you’re confronted by this possibility. Your teen comes to you and says, “(mom or dad,) I’ve decided to take a semester off from school to get my bearings, and I’d like to start school in the spring term rather than the fall.” 

You might be tempted to respond by saying “no, you’re not,” or something such as that. Don’t. Instead of doubting their intentions, try to determine why they want to hold off for a little while. Their answer will probably sound something like “I’m just not sure what I want to do yet,” or “I don’t know if college is the right path for me.” Both of these are okay. After all, it’s your kid’s life, not yours that you should be concerned with, and if they choose to start their adult life by taking an introspective look at what they want to do with the rest of it, who are you to say otherwise? Rather than demanding compliance, try being understanding. 

Rather than telling your teenager that they’re foolish for waiting, that it’s better to do it and get it done, understand that they’re going to be better off in the long run if they go into the college experience with a path they’re comfortable following. If they don’t, if they get started right away, and get locked into a career they can’t stand because you forced them into it, it’s safe to say that you’ll never, ever hear the end of it, and at best, will have to apologize for screwing with their life at some future date in a psychologist’s office. You and your child are likely to be much better off just taking a breather to figure out what they want to do, and try to trust that they know what’s best for their own lives.

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