Supporting Your Students’ Decisions as they Enter Young Adulthood

It’s summer time, and the high school senior in your family is making the transition to young adulthood. Congratulations to them! Now, they’re on to their next challenge and first big life decision: college, university, vocational school, or the job market. Naturally, you want them to get a leg up on life, and may have scores of anecdotes and advice to steer them towards what you imagine to be great success.

But have you noticed your student rejecting these efforts? It’s hard to remember sometimes, because you’ve been such a guiding force their whole life, that your little boy or girl has grown, and they’re now an individual capable of choosing their own path. Despite your best intentions, they might inadvertently be taking your helpful advice as a power struggle -— but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can still support them in a way that isn’t overbearing to help them make decisions that they feel proud of, so you can too.


It’s a battle for the ages: “I don’t want to be a doctor, I want to be a dancer!”

Making Peace With Their Goals

There’s a lot to be said about making practical decisions, but an equal argument to be considered for passionately following one’s dreams. Life satisfaction derives from how closely your daily actions allow you to get to your personal definition of success, and more importantly, from how often you engage in activities from which you derive meaning. Does your student already know what’s important to them? You can be sure they do, but maybe you haven’t asked! While the adult in you is focused on the financial potential of your students’ talents, they are likely thinking more of their personal satisfaction, which could be taking the form of a less-lucrative (but more emotionally fulfilling while still realistic) career or field of study.

Instead of stirring up stress by butting heads about their potential future earnings, you can calm down by asking and trusting your student to cement what they’re hoping to get out of life, so they make choices with full commitment that steer them towards their ultimate goal.

For example, do they want to help people, entertain, form personal connections, or get incredibly rich? Once they know what type of focus is important to them, they can start looking at realistic ways of planning for a life that supports this personal goal. This can help indecisive individuals avoid career-hopping or changing their major many times over the course of their study. Looking for a really great graduation gift? This book guides you through the process:

If they’ve given it thought and have those decisions figured out, encourage your student to write down those feelings about why they are so certain that it’s the right thing for them. Let them know you won’t read it; this letter is for their eyes only. Follow through on keeping it private to build trust in your relationship. Then do them a huge favor: store that note away for later, in case the going gets tough for them. (Surprise: it gets tough for everyone at some point or another!)  But it might come to a point where they tell you that they want to throw in the towel -— this is when that note is handy. Because it’s coming from themselves, they can trust the words.

If your student does have a rough start, their confidence will be shaken, and they’ll benefit from your support and reassurance. Try to remember to commend them for their effort despite the result, and help them recognize that their self worth doesn’t derive from their grades. And most of all, listen. Like any individual in an agitated state, they might just want to vent.

Of course, they might really just be in the wrong situation, and that has to be considered. Yes, changing your major too much can set you back on your graduation date, but the sooner a student gets into the right field, the better, as changing majors too often or too late in their degree is worse.

If your student is going through a major mid-career change, they will appreciate not being made to feel like they made a “mistake” with their initial choices. It might not seem like it sometimes, but all your student wants is to make you proud. That’s what they want you to know: More than compromising their GPA, letting their parents down is the one college mistake they want to avoid. As they embark on this difficult part of life, you can help them by supporting the decisions they’re going to own!