Adulthood. What’s it all about? Paying bills, dentist appointments, groceries, feeling chronically stressed, busy, tired…you get the idea. For the record, I don’t believe this personally, but I’m pretty sure all the teenagers that I work with do.
It seems that kids and teenagers are apprehensive about moving to adulthood because of how they perceive it to be.
I can’t even tell you the number of freshmen and sophomores in my office who feel anxious and stressed about their future because they “don’t know what they want to be when they grow up” or the number of teenagers who are terrified to be an adult. Then, the conversations about college begins.
Applying for college can become a check box exercise - take the SAT, write this essay, apply for this scholarship, join this club, apply to these colleges. The whole process is a lot and if they are routinely being bombarded with applying to college, their perception of adulthood becomes their own reality.
It’s important to remember that one of the key developmental tasks of adolescence is exploration of ideas. Teenagers are great thinkers, questioners, dreamers, so we should use this to our advantage. They should be trying new things, having different experiences, meeting new people, being exposed to different jobs. Not just in furtherance of the college application. It’s an added bonus if the activity will look good on a college application, but this is how we grow, develop and learn important things about ourselves. It’s also just a lot easier to enjoy burnout if you’re able to do things you like and are interested in.
One of the ways to really understand what you want in your future is to understand and really live in the present. Don’t forget to let your children be children, your teenager be a teenager. Applying to college or figuring out the post high school plan is one part of senior year. This is a great time for balance, including taking steps for their future and enjoying life right now.
This also applies to adults. There’s a laundry list of tasks above (oh, we should add laundry to that list) that doesn’t even scratch the surface. I hope you’ve also built a life you love and have plenty of enjoyment. This way your children and teenagers can see that being an adult does come with responsibility, but it also comes with a lot more. After all, that’s the idea, right? We want our children and teenagers to have a full, complete life.
A couple other related ideas:
1- College is not for everyone. Not all students go to college. There are other paths that are a much better fit for a lot of students. So, if you’re talking to a student about what comes after high school, you can ask just that “what comes after high school for you?”. And, because we want to also focus on the present - don’t forget to ask how their senior year is, too.
2- If you do have a teenager applying to college, here’s a practical tip to try.
We know that applying to college is very stressful on its own. In addition to the application process and everything that comes before that, there tends to be many, many conversations with your parents about college and here’s where the practical tip comes into play.
It’s easy for college talk to creep into every conversation and every interaction in a family. Most often, that’s both frustrating and inefficient. The college application process can lead to some burned out seniors (and families) and talking about college non stop can lead to avoidance of family time and of working on applications. Here’s the tip: have a set time to talk about college, and then leave it out of conversations when it’s not the designated time. If something comes up that needs to be discussed and it can’t wait, ask for a time that you can talk about it.
3- Speaking of adulthood: if this topic has sparked your interest, check out the book How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims.
Cheers to the present, the future, and everything in between!