When my son graduated high school almost a year ago, I was beyond proud. Not that I doubted him for a second but more for the hard work, effort and sheer determination that he had shown leading up to the finals. To be honest, the middle and high school years were a bit of a roller coaster - lots of fun for him but a roller coaster academically. I had my fair share of meetings with teachers during those years due to his academic performance but I let it slide most of the time because our priorities were not about getting A's but was a balance of learning and having fun while doing so.
Going into the final year of high school, my son knew he had to buckle down, and he did, and when they say 'you reap what you sow' they weren't kidding! I was proud of him, but most importantly, he was proud of himself.
With all that behind us, it was time for picking colleges and what he wanted to do - so many choices and decisions for a 17-year-old to make!
I had planned it in my mind, that I will allow him to take the lead on this one. Moving into the next chapter of his life, I thought giving him the opportunity to do the research on his own, talk to teachers, discuss with friends and allow him to make these decisions himself would be a better approach. It'll teach him to be accountable and take responsibility.
Of course, he had sought counsel and my thoughts when he needed it and I made myself available for those times that he just wanted to talk about where he was going with it, but eventually, he made the decisions he needed to make. It took 6 months for him to come to a conclusion but he did. He enrolled 2 weeks before the deadline.
He's only a few months into college, and looking back I think that the decision I took to let him lead, has proven to be a good decision. He's very into the subjects that he had chosen, albeit there are a few challenges, but his determination to get through it is just extraordinary.
As parents, we often find ourselves sitting on the edge of our seats whilst we watch our teens pave their own way. It can be a nail-biting experience trying to hold off all these opinions that we have of what they should do and how they should do it but from my experience, letting go - as much as I could - proved what I always saw in my son anyways - a capable, responsible and admirable young man.
It's a tight rope that we, as parents, walk on at this stage of our teens' lives, between wanting to be involved in the planning of their future whilst offering them the independence to do so. Here are the 4 things I learned going through this process with my teenager:-
Keep an open mind
Yes, we brought this child into the world, we raised them, we shuffled them to and from school, after school activities, social gatherings, we know their friends and their friends' parents, and we think we know our teens inside out. But we must remember that somewhere down the line when we were busy with our lives and them growing into these young adults, they've evolved into their own. In the process of them gaining independence and slowly pulling away from us, some little aspects of their lives, we might be unfamiliar with. Passions and interests may have changed over the years.
What we want for them and what they want for themselves can be two polar opposites so be open as they tell you their plans. You might not agree with them but hold on from judging them too quickly. Take time and listen to them, they might surprise you. If at any time I thought I needed to share my thoughts that were not, particularly, in alignment with his plans, I would, but in a positive way. Sometimes, when necessary, we can even help shift their focus, positively.
I was extremely impressed when I listened to my son talk about his plans. He had done his research, spoken to all the people he needed to, and this, coming from a boy that didn't have a clue what he wanted to do a few months back! He was clear about the path he wanted to take, he knew going into it will not be without its own challenges but he was determined. And I was determined, to support and encourage him in any way possible.
Keep the Communication Lines Open
Your teen might be one of those that choose to do everything on their own - picking their colleges, the subjects and majors, choosing not to keep you in the loop, whilst you navigate being torn between asking them and not wanting them to pull away any further with your questions.
The best thing would be to set a time for a discussion. This way your teen will not be inundated by your frequent questions, and both of you have ample time to prepare for this discussion.
Letting them know that you are interested will make them let you in on their plans and they'll be open to discussing them with you knowing that you don't have any judgement with where they are going with it.
It is also important during these discussions, to be honest and clear about the financial implications in terms of college selection.
Let them know that you are there to help them.
Do Your Own Research
Choosing the right college or university can be daunting for your teen. They should be able to choose a college where they believe they can succeed in.
You can help by doing your own research on the side. This gives you and your teen a chance to compare notes when you sit together to discuss possible options. Remember to take into consideration - costs implications, location, extracurricular activities for each school.
Doing your own research or even reaching out to college counsellors can contribute to having meaningful discussions with your teen on the options available. This enables both you and your teen to narrow down options accordingly.
Once I had made a connection with a college counsellor with a particular college he was honing in on, I informed my son of the basic information that I had gathered and then he took over and continued the conversation with them. All the questions he had, he ironed out directly with the counsellor. He even managed to get a small scholarship for the first term fees - I was, of course, proud to see how he managed to navigate this whole process without much involvement from me.
Allow Room For Change
Keep in mind, that people change, we change - our interests, our passions, everything changes. That's just human nature. We're always evolving and learning.
At 17 or 18, don't expect your teen to know exactly what they want to do for the rest of their lives. They're only just venturing into this world so give them the room to be uncertain. It's okay to not know EXACTLY what they want to do.
I did tell my son, that it's okay if he doesn't stick to one thing, its okay to try different things regardless of what stage it is in his life. We need to try different things in order for us to grow and know exactly what interests us.
I had spoken to some of his friends that seemed to have had everything planned out in the beginning, I was surely impressed and was a tiny bit concerned that my son didn't seem to have any sort of plan in place and didn't for the life of him know what he was even interested in moving forward. But even that, down the line when I spoke to them again, their plans had changed. And that's completely okay!
Long term planning can be stressful and paralysing for most, let alone a 17-year-old. One of the best things you can do for your teen is to show them that you believe completely in their ability to make a good decision!