Friday, June 23, 2017

Supporting Your Grad's Adult Transitions

Regardless of the distinction between current generational circumstances and those past, the improvement of current circumstances will almost always provide a better future. Parents have the ability and responsibility to help their children fulfill their potential. Whether making the transition from grade school to higher education, or looking to enter the workforce right after graduation, a child’s parents play a huge role in how successful they'll become later in life.

Many grads head straight into college, community college, or trade school, hoping these paths will give them a leg up on the competition for future earnings.  However, many others are choosing to simply forego more education and simply “get a job” at the first place that's hiring.  Parent engagement is not just for K-12, but also includes the phase that comes after high school.  Knowing how to do this well is important.

Graduation from high school is the first time in a long time when "freedom from forced learning" is granted.  However, as all successful adults know, the need for learning never stops.  So, instead of bucking the whole idea of learning in a regrettable error of rebellion, the healthier trajectory is to assess new options and choose what makes the most sense.  This is where parents can be a big influence, and make a big difference, even if they never were involved much during the school years.

It is the very rare grad who already knows what they want to commit their whole life to. 
  • What do I want to do for work?  Sit at a desk?  Work outdoors?  Work with people, with my hands, with animals, with plants, with numbers? 
  • What kind of earnings do I want?   Monthly budgets and bills paid?  Savings and retirement accounts?  Big house and exotic vacations?  
  • What kind of work place do I want?  Whether you want to be an orderly or a surgeon, the surroundings of a hospital can be a comforting certainty.  Whether you are the groundskeeper/maintenance person or the lead pastor, going to work at a church every day can be a pleasant thing.  But, taking a first job as a helper on a sewage pumping truck can lead to a whole life of filth, grime, and foul odors. 

A life trajectory is the choice of every high school graduate.  With diploma in hand, what’s next?  Being prepared to answer that question may come immediately, or years later.  Many who enter college chasing one major, shift their course toward an entirely different career part way through.  While that may be a normal part of growing up, parents can have a huge impact on the self-knowledge and confidence it takes.  Most grads have never made such an important decision and find it hard to believe they can choose any path they want.

It makes a lot of sense for some grads to sign up for a short hitch in the military, learn some discipline, learn some skills, save some money, get a bit of college funding, and then choose a life path from a more mature perspective.   Sometimes community college with a job on the side does the same thing, providing a chance to grow up before establishing a more permanent life direction.  From the parents' perspective, the point of these choices is not what path is chosen, but how well these choices fit the person, how ready a child is when “choice time” comes, and how cohesively the family dynamics evolve. Good parenting is about influencing the child toward things like:
  • handling life responsibilities like financials, relationships, and chores
  • embracing good character development for its long-term value
  • developing wisdom and good judgment, courage, trust, and respectability
  • taking advantage of one's best possibilities
  • maximizing their potential in their own unique way
  • becoming a good - and improving - decision maker 
  • creating and sticking to a plan
  • finding their place in the world and the satisfaction that comes with it

If the child chooses "what my parents would want me to do" they have failed to be their own adult.  If they don't know themselves well enough to see how wants, dreams, ambitions, and effort must be genuine to succeed, they may end up chasing a false path and never be happy on it.  If they haven't learned to make decisions and commit to a plan, they may linger in vacillation for years.  

So, parents, please do not underestimate your importance during the K-12 years.  Everything a child believes about themselves, dreams is possible, and dares to go after in life will be significantly - but not entirely - impacted by you.  Knowing this beforehand empowers you to choose as best you can to be the influence you want to give.  Your child’s choices will have risks.  Protecting them from the possibility of harm is not always the best choice.  Falling in love is risky.  Having sex is risky.  Just walking out the front door is risky.  So, when they face choosing an initial life trajectory, it isn’t so much a case for safety as much as one of weighing the possible outcomes.   Having prepared them to do well means you have done well

Whether it's at home before Kindergarten, during the school years, or in their twenties, children want parents to be relevant, involved, and good at being parents.  Input and influence from parents who have been involved all along will undoubtedly be more relevant and more accepted by the child during adult transitions.  So, if you are a parent who is unsure if your involvement in their learning matters… IT DOES.  Get involved earlier and know you will get better at it.  As I said, successful adults know that the need for learning never ends.  So, jump in and learn… because you love them.

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