Let’s face it. At one point during our younger educational years, the thought, “School sucks!” crossed our minds. There’s no denying that sometimes it seemed like the grind of going to school, day in and day out, was a waste of time. I’ve heard more than a few people talk about how pointless it felt to be learning subjects that they had no passion for or interest in. Yet, they persisted and made every effort to succeed with high scores and high achievements in order to achieve the ultimate goal: determine what to be for life -- get accepted to a good college -- secure a good future.
The pressure is on even more these days with older teens facing an undeniable time of reckoning--deciding what they want to ‘become.’ What an incredibly daunting task! I mean, I remember feeling completely overwhelmed with anxiety and self-doubt around that time. Some kids at my high school were applying to places like Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, so the expectations of the students were super high. Fast forward to today, I can’t say whether those who went to the prestigious schools are living any better lives than any of my ‘average’ peers or me. And, we’ve all changed our minds about ‘what we want to be when we grow up.’
In 2016, an article was published on the Seattle Times website titled: “Do teens face too much academic pressure?” Of course, I say ‘Yes!’ But, I wanted to see what research was behind that thought. Montgomery and Robertson of The Kansas City Star reported that Harvard University had just published a report (“Turning the Tide”) that updated candidate requirements for highly competitive colleges. Students were to be judged more on personality and ethical values, rather than number of AP classes or GPA. There was a suggestion for educators to encourage students to ‘be themselves,’ not just what they think the school wants to see on an application. Of course, it’s a nice idea to suggest that schools look at personal qualities more than academics, but when you talk to teens, they’ll tell you that just adds more pressure to be the perfect person and get awesome grades!
As the parent of an older teen, you’re probably feeling all this stress and worry too (if not even more so)! And, of course, you want to help your kid succeed and live a happy life.
So, what to do?! Well, don’t trip, chocolate chip! There is hope yet!
Here are 5 simple things teens can do when faced with the question, ‘What am I going to do for the rest of my life?!’ Feel free to share this article with the teens in your life, or gently offer them these suggestions.
1. Journal - Simply writing down the thoughts you have can give you not only a place to put them, quite literally getting them out of your head, but can also help us process our thoughts and feelings in a way that talking about them doesn’t. You may even come up with your own solutions and figure out what you want to do with your life for today!
2. Try Something New – Get out and try something you’ve never done before. Whether it’s learning to rock climb or simply drawing for 10 minutes a day, research shows us that new connections are made in the brain when we try new things, which can increase our resiliency and lead to feeling more confident about our choices in life.
3. Audit Your Friend List – It might seem strange, but taking inventory of the relationships in your life can help with figuring out which direction you want to go. If you’ve outgrown the ‘party scene’ but most of your friends are still in it, then investing some time into friendships that feel more like who you want to be will help immensely as you grow up. That doesn’t mean to cut people out of your life forever! Just be mindful of who is in your life, that’s all.
4. List Your Favorite Activities – When you do something that really brings you joy, write it down and then do it again!!! Keep track of the simple things in life that make you feel good and help you stay balanced. In this way, you’re training yourself to cope with the stress of life decisions in a healthy way.
5. Get Perspective – Ask older adults if they knew what they wanted to be when they were 15, 16, or 17. (The vast majority of them probably didn’t, and that’s okay!) Find out from multiple trustworthy sources how they decided where to go to college and whether or not it made a huge difference in their lives. Chances are at least someone has experienced some socially perceived setback, like failing out of high school or not going to college, and they are doing just fine in life. (I’m certainly not encouraging flunking out, but just sayin’ that life usually offers people chances.) Your whole life may feel like it comes down to where and if you decide to go to college and what you're going 'to be,' but it really probably doesn’t.
Sometimes half the battle is in understanding and accepting that this is an exciting and stressful time of life for older teens. Even if they’re excited about their college pick or their plans post-high school, positive change can also create stress. Support your teen in talking through their thoughts and feelings and in being curious about their interests and in who they are. They’re still growing and learning and changing, and that’s normal, healthy and okay.
To all your teens, congrats and good luck!!
By Seija Zimmerman, LMFT
Thrive Therapy & Counseling
1614 X St., Suite A
Sacramento, CA 95818
PS—If your teen will be a senior in high school next year or goes off to college or work this fall but could use some extra help with life skills, stay tuned for more info about the Adulting Teen Group I’m offering in fall 2018!