Our oldest is a junior in high school, so we’re having a lot of conversations and thinking a lot about what happens next. This is the year (or so his school tells us) that decisions about colleges need to be made, that he needs to make plans for his future, that he needs to figure out what he wants to do with his life. No big deal.
It’s like asking a 16 year old to pilot a plane to adulthood. It’s a long trip. It’s complicated. Getting from point A to point B may not be a direct route. They may need to stop to refuel. They may have a malfunction on the way and need to repair their plane. They may just need to rest. They may get caught in a storm-they may see it on the horizon and take a different route, or it may come up out of nowhere and cause them major delays.
Eventually they’ll figure out how to get from A to B. Some kids will find that trip smooth sailing. They know where they want to go immediately and they can fly a plane with ease, knowing that they have to stop at certain points to refuel and rest. They have beautiful flying weather. Everything seems to go simply and smoothly.
Other kids will encounter more problems-many they don’t anticipate, and have to change their route or destination on the way. They may get grounded in one spot for extensive repairs, and they may never get off the ground again.
Or maybe they will find a new destination on the way–finding that their original plans changed. They will find that while they had originally intended to fly to one destination it turns out they don’t like it there and they head off for a new destination.
Most of us aren’t ready to fly that plane at 16-to make choices that effect us for a lifetime. After all with student loan debt at an all-time high it’s likely that the cost of ‘fuel’ to get from 16-year-old high school student to fully formed adult with a life and a career is going to be expensive.
Instead of just looking at one path forward I think it’s prudent to consider all the options both from a financial standpoint and from a personal standpoint. If your child wants to be a lawyer 4 year college is a must, and a competitive school will give them an ‘edge’ when it comes time for law school. However, if your child wants to build and repair cars-a 4 year degree may not be the best option. And then there are the kids who aren’t sure what they want yet. Spending oodles of money helping them figure that out in college isn’t effective. It may even be more prudent to have them (gasp!) get a regular job after high school and learn to manage their own budget so they can learn how the adult world works before they decide what career path they want to follow.
As a parent what I want for my kids is to make those choices for themselves. Not because Mom and Dad say you need a degree, not because it’s what everyone else is doing, and not because your school would like to have a 100% college admittance rate.
We tell our kids what we have now more than ever before are options. You can take a traditional career path. You can educate yourself on a skill set that’s valuable to others. You can go to trade school. You can build things. You can create a job from a passion or a hobby. You can start a business. You can travel and earn enough to do so by offering your skills for trade or hire where you go. You can do just about anything, anywhere. You can do more than one thing, too. Basically, you can do what you want with your life. As long as it provides you a means to keep a roof over your head, food on the table, and a healthy savings account, and an occasional smile on your face.
We’re lucky to live in a time when we have so many options, but it can be overwhelming, too. That’s why it’s important to talk about where your kids might want to land, and to help them navigate on the way.
Our son has big decisions to make, but we’ll be here every step of the way.
A note to parents of younger kids: I know you hear this all the time. I did, and still do, but it bears repeating. It goes by FAST. In the blink of an eye they go from tween to teen, and they round the corner to adult so quickly it will shock you. Seriously. There are only 4 short years from young teen in 9th grade to adult. Scary, right? Embrace the stage they’re in now, but be sure to help them grow up and be independent a little more each year. Prepare them now by letting them live a little more, be a little more who they are, and do more each year. And read this. And watch this video below. Yes, Mike Rowe is advertising his new show, but it’s a great message. One many parents need to hear.