As a parent, you want what’s best for your child. As they grow up, you develop certain expectations. You want them to study hard, finish school, build a successful career and build a life of their own. Many parents set up college funds to ensure their children don’t end up in debt.
If you’re one of the parents who have done this, it can therefore come as a surprise when your 18-year-old announces they don’t want to go to college. Teenagers’ decisions don’t necessarily align with their parents ambitions and plans for them! If you’ve been heavily invested in the idea, you can experience a rollercoaster of emotion with confusion, fear, frustration, and anxiety vying for the top spot. When you recover from the initial shock, it’s wise to try to handle the situation logically with your managerial hat on.
Try to understand where the decision is coming from. It may well be that they’ve come up with another equally valuable plan. If they’ve had a big change of heart and their decision is sudden and out of character, talk to them about their feelings to check for signs of anxiety or depression. If they tell you they don’t want to do anything with their life full stop, this requires a different tactic. All three scenarios are solvable. They just require three completely different approaches.
If your teen has a sensible plan about what they want to do as an alternative to university, then there is nothing to worry about. A few decades ago, teenagers had a clearly defined pathway post-schooling which included university, finding a great job, and becoming independent. Nowadays, degrees and even MBAs no longer guarantee a job and a successful career. In fact, a lot of people with degrees can’t get an offline job post-Covid. And multinationals like Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple are paying more attention than ever to young people with an online presence, who have a successful Instagram account, show business intellect and most importantly have skills like content writing, social media management, podcast production, or coding. To be successful in the 2020s you need to have skills and many of these skills can be learned in online courses, by studying for a Google Certification or by doing an apprenticeship that teaches invaluable, cutting edge skills, that can put your teen on a great career path in less than two years.
Times have changed and the business world has changed dramatically. Most experts believe that in 10 years we’ll be doing jobs that haven’t even been invented yet. In light of that, university is more suited to young people with particular careers in mind like teachers, engineers and doctors. University offers a great perspective on the world and is a necessity in order to pursue certain jobs, but it no longer guarantees a job. Practical skills are what most employers are looking for in the workforce and practical skills like website design, photography, videography, digital marketing and content writing are necessary to build and run an online business. And post-Pandemic, business means online business.
In 2020, not having a university degree is not an obstacle when it comes to obtaining work as long as your teen is developing the skills and experience the labour market is crying out for. If they have an area of interest, such as digital marketing, computer animation or video editing, they can attend any number of online courses in every conceivable field to acquire new skills. Remember that volunteering and doing internships, as well as competing for and winning apprenticeships offer invaluable experience and knowledge.
It goes without saying that if your daughter or son wants to become a lawyer or a doctor, they’ll need a university degree. Based on their grades and ambitions, you can come up with a plan to help them reach their goals. You can help by researching the grades required by different medical schools or law schools and choosing their top picks based on their expected grades. You can have family discussions about the different pathways depending on whether they want to become a GP, a surgeon or a pathologist, a family lawyer, property lawyer or a specialist in jurisprudence.
If your teen doesn’t want to go to university because they’re depressed or anxious this can be the scariest thing imaginable for you as a parent. There are so many teenagers out there who are on medication, who self-harm, who have panic attacks, who starve themselves and hurt themselves in so many ways it’s frightening. Sit with them. Be there. Try to elicit information without seeming to be too interested in the reply! and above all try not to tell them the right thing to do or the right way to be. If they’re depressed, that’s their reality and it doesn’t matter that it’s illogical because they’re healthy or fit or comfortably off or clever or popular. Depression is a whole other ballgame that’s best left to experts. Don’t make them uncomfortable or guilty about feeling as they do because they can’t help it and nor can you. It’s an illness that no-one chooses.
It’s quite common for teens to feel depressed or anxious when one huge chapter of their life finishes but there might be other reasons for the depression. Approach them carefully and express your concern for their health. It may simply be they’re anxious about making the transition from school to work or university or moving away from home but if you think it’s more serious, empathise with them and encourage them to get help from a mental health professional. Talk to your teen, explain that treatment is an important part of the healing process, and emphasise that there’s nothing to be ashamed about. The truth is that as parents we often don’t know what approach to take. We don’t know what’s wrong or why. We don’t know what to say or we’re too scared to say it. That’s okay. If your teen is clinically depressed, apart from ensuring they get the right care and the right medicine, get the scripts. By that I mean ask mental health experts for the precise words and phrases to employ rigidly, military fashion when things go wrong and our most precious children become out of our reach. Because the script is all important when your child is depressed. Find out what you can say and how to say it. Then don’t stray from the script. Spend more time just holding them or sitting by them. For you, talk to the professionals and to fellow parents. Find support in the community. Support each other through the worst parts of being a parent. You can do that. And you can get through it and get your kids through it. Just because you’re a parent and it’s what you do.
Regarding the third scenario, if your teen wants to do nothing but seems quite emotionally robust (it can happen), talking to a coach or a therapist may be beneficial. They may be able to guide your teen in the right direction and help them find their passion in life. Fear of the unknown may be driving their behaviour or perhaps they feel unprepared to take on the responsibility of adulthood or fear being accountable for their actions. A coach can help them overcome these fears and fulfil their potential.
Remember there’s no such thing as a perfect parent, just an effective, empowering one.