My son, a senior in high school, is constantly inundated with the following questions:
Where are you going to college?
What are you going to study?
What do you want to do?
Given that on some days, he can’t seem to decide what he wants for breakfast without considerable thought, it’s amazing that some people think he — or any teen — should have such heavy decisions all figured out by now.
In a world that often emphasizes the importance of planning for the future, it’s crucial to remember that teenagers should not be expected to have their lives entirely figured out. Instead of pressuring teens with questions about their post-graduation plans, college choices, and career aspirations, perhaps we should recognize that life is full of surprises, and there’s nothing wrong with figuring it out as you go. If we’re being honest with ourselves, that’s what most of us did, anyway.
Teenagers are at a stage in their lives where they are still exploring their interests, values, and passions. They are in the process of discovering who they are, what they enjoy, and what they are good at. This period of self-discovery is essential for personal growth and isn’t likely to benefit from being rushed.
Asking teenagers what they plan to do after graduation, which college they intend to attend, or what career they want to pursue can unintentionally create unnecessary stress and anxiety. Here are some key reasons why we should refrain from expecting teens to have it all figured out:
1. Developmental Growth
Teenagers are in the midst of a critical stage of developmental growth. Their brains are still maturing, and their cognitive abilities are evolving. During this time, they’re learning how to think critically, make decisions, and take on greater responsibilities. It’s entirely normal for them to be uncertain about their future at this stage — or what they want for breakfast.
2. Evolving Interests
Teenagers’ interests can change rapidly as they explore different subjects and activities. What they are passionate about today may not be the same as what they are passionate about a year from now. Encouraging them to explore their interests without the pressure of making lifelong decisions allows them to make choices that truly align with their passions.
3. External Expectations
Pressure from well-meaning adults, peers, and societal expectations can be overwhelming for teenagers. When they feel pressured to have their entire future mapped out, they may make hasty decisions based on external influences rather than their own genuine interests and desires. The last thing any parent wants is for their kids to follow someone else’s path and not their own.
4. Fear of Failure
Expecting teens to have their lives figured out can instill a fear of failure. When they believe they must have a concrete plan, they may become paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong choice. This fear can hinder their ability to take risks and explore new opportunities. I don’t know about you, but I’d hate it if my son lost those instincts.
5. Limited Perspective
Teens may not have had the chance to explore a wide range of experiences, which can limit their perspective on potential career paths. Encouraging them to try new things and gain exposure to different fields can help them make more informed decisions.
6. Life Is Full of Surprises
Life is unpredictable, and unexpected opportunities and challenges can arise at any moment. Teaching teenagers to adapt to change and embrace uncertainty is a valuable life skill. Encouraging flexibility and resilience is more important than pressuring them to have a fixed plan.
7. Multiple Pathways to Success
Success can be achieved through a variety of pathways, and not all of them require a traditional college education or a linear career trajectory. Emphasizing the importance of personal growth, happiness, and well-being over rigid career goals allows teens to explore diverse options.
8. Personal Growth Takes Time
Personal growth and self-discovery are ongoing processes. Teens need the freedom to make mistakes, learn from them, and evolve as individuals. Rushing this process can impede their development.
9. Encouraging Lifelong Learning
Pressuring teens to choose a specific career path can inadvertently convey the message that learning and personal growth end after formal education. Encouraging them to embrace lifelong learning and adaptability is essential in today’s ever-changing world.
10. Supporting Well-Being
Lastly, the mental and emotional well-being of teenagers should be a top priority. Asking them to have their lives figured out can contribute to stress, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy. Supporting their mental health and emotional stability should always come first.
It’s essential to recognize that teenagers are on a unique journey of self-discovery and personal growth. Instead of burdening them with unrealistic expectations about having their lives figured out, we should provide them with the guidance, support, and space they need to explore their interests and passions. Life is full of surprises, and there is immense value in embracing change, adapting to new circumstances, and growing as individuals.
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