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How to help your teen for life after High School

My only biological child, and the youngest child in our house, is now a Senior in High School and so many thoughts and emotions have been running through my head. As a parent, you wonder…. have I done all I can to prepare my son/daughter for the challenges ahead? In general, during times of big transition in a child’s life many parents think about their not so stellar parenting moments and worry that those moments can have a negative impact on their child. All humans make mistakes, and parents are no exception. In my opinion, if you show your kids love and you provide them with emotional support, they will be OK as they go off on their own. Below are some things to consider if you have a child in high school. These tips can help in addressing any areas that may need your attention before they graduate from High School and as they prepare to transition into young adulthood. If you feel that counseling services can help support your teen, please seek help from a mental health professional. Turning Point Mental Health Center is available to help you and your child. However, if we are not your choice you can search for a mental health provider in your area by contacting your health insurance company or by asking a friend for recommendations.

1. Can your teen cope with the “hard” feelings in life?

The emotional life of a teen is filled with turmoil. In high school and college, kids often deal with academic, social or romantic setbacks. They will have times of triumph and exuberance as well as doubt and disappointment. All of this is normal, and even desirable as a way to prepare them for adult life.

A close look at how your teen deals with these challenging moments sheds some light on their readiness for life on their own. When they perform poorly on an exam do they go for a run or a beer? When a love interest rebuffs them, do they soothe themselves with music or drugs? When they are suffering from doubt do they call their parents looking for a compassionate listener or someone to swoop down and solve their problems? Can they handle their problems without their parents help at all? Students who struggle to deal independently and effectively with “hard’ feelings in high school may feel overwhelmed in the college environment.

2. Can your teen take full responsibility for self-care?

Self-care is one of the basic requirements for life in college. This skill set covers a wide range of issues from sleep to eating to exercise to self-control. Parents should evaluate their teen’s ability to manage self-care on their own. High school kids who still need to be reminded to go to bed, who have no sense of healthy eating habits or who find it hard to exercise self-control in the presence of drugs, alcohol or distractions may well struggle when they are on their own.

Additionally, self-care for college freshmen also includes being able to make their own doctor’s appointments, travel arrangements, advocating for themselves with professors or other authority figures and managing money.

3. Can your teen manage his/her time?

While in theory, high school kids should be given more and more control over their time and learn to effectively manage it, in reality, their life is still highly structured. Once teens enter college, with more free time in their day and more flexibility around their activities, scheduling their time becomes a new, and for some, overwhelming responsibility.

The maturity required to do this depends, in part, on the development of a teen’s brain but students who, in High School, repeatedly show that they struggle to get work in on time or manage the competing demands of multiple classes and longer-term assignments may find college very challenging. Parents who constantly intervene with reminders for their high school student about academic and other responsibilities may fail to realize that their teen cannot manage them on their own.

4. Does your teen know when and how to seek help?

When our kids live at home it is all too easy to tell them when they need to see a doctor or suggest to them that they seek extra help from a teacher. Once they are in college they will need to decide for themselves when to seek medical, psychological services or tutoring. Teens who have not learned to both assess their own problems and then seek appropriate help may falter when faced with inevitable problems.

Freshmen need to have shown in high school that they can both learn and rebound from their failures and that they do not fall apart when they have setbacks. It is important that students going to college can recognize when they are in some sort of trouble (academic, emotional or other), asses the severity of their problems and that they are capable of reaching out for help on campus or by calling their parents/other trusted adult.

5. Can your teen take responsibility for and learn from their poor decisions?

Teens make mistakes. Their good judgment is still developing and their impulse control is a work in progress. One of the signs of a teen who is ready to leave home is not that she doesn’t make mistakes or show an occasional lapse in judgment, that is too high of a bar for most teens, but rather that when misbehavior or misjudgment is uncovered the teen owns up to their responsibility and alters their future behavior.

Teens are capable of changing much faster than adults. So, if you find yourself threatening your teen “do that again and you are not going away next year” don’t despair. Many teens are shaken at this thought and both learn and change their behavior. Concern, however, might arise when parents make such a threat and their teen’s behavior remains unchanged.

6. Has your teen shown that they can manage themselves in a setting without their family?

Not every teen has the opportunity to spend time away from their family. But if your teen has shown that at camp, away on a trip or in the workplace they are able to manage their behavior, this is a very encouraging sign for their move away.

7. Can your teen assess risk?

College is a time of increased risky behavior. Teens and young adults need to constantly assess the risks of their actions. When your teen is making a decision involving sex, drugs or alcohol can they think through the implications of their actions? Teens who are showing the kind of maturity that is required for college have moved away from asking themselves, “What are the chances I could get caught?” to the important question, “What could go wrong if I do this?”

8. College is an (expensive) gift like none other. Will your teen take advantage of what it has to offer? Is it truly their decision to go?

Research has shown that some kids arrive to college as freshmen almost as a default. College was expected and at no point was there ever a question about their attending. The difficulty in this is that the decision, and thus the outcome, belongs to a student’s parents and not to the student himself.

While taking time off after high school is still not the norm in the US, many experts suggest that a year away from studies after high school can have a remarkable maturing effect on a teen. Many professionals who work with college students found that an “autonomous gap year” in other words, a year in which the student makes plans and then carries out those plans and looks after themselves, leads to a qualitatively better college experience.

Most colleges will allow students to defer admission for a year and take time to get themselves ready. Parents are often concerned about a gap year, fearing that their child will not end up matriculating to college. However, experts find that this has not been the case. After a year working in the real world, most teens are eager and far more ready to attend college.

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