Helping Your Teen Figure Out Life After High School

As parents it’s so important to remain actively involved with your teen. Yet providing some balance and open communication is key.

Jackie Kibler, associate professor, Northwest Missouri State University specializes in Adolescent Development and St. Joseph, Missouri Mom, LeAnna Murphy offer tips on how to help your teen find his/ her footing.

Van Buren: How soon should parents talk to their kids about plans after high school?

Kibler:  At least by middle school. Research shows that kids start choosing a path once they are in high school. So visits to college campuses and technical schools should begin in elementary and middle school. This way kids can begin considering their possibilities.

Murphy:  I started talking with my girls about post high school plans when they were Freshmen in high school. During registration their freshman year we started talking about what their dreams were, what they were interested in as careers, what would be a potential course plan for their 4-years of high school. It started a dialog about topics, careers that they found interesting and classes that might help them explore their interests. 

Van Buren: Should it be an ongoing conversation? 

Kibler: Yes, kids are limited by what they consider as their options. They need to see what is out there so that they consider it an option for them. If they see others who are like them doing big things, they will see that they too can do big things.

Murphy: Absolutely. As they started to grow and learn more about possible career choices we explored them. For example, when my oldest daughter was a sophomore, she thought she wanted to be a x-ray tech. So we looked at the college curriculum from a school in Kansas then compared it with a vo-tech.

We also looked at a couple healthcare career sites to see if we could get some better descriptions of what that career included. That particular daughter changed her mind about 4 times during high school about “potential careers.” The only thing that remained constant was that she wanted to go away to college and she wanted to play softball. We explored every career she was interested in.

We took college visits and spoke with program directors starting the second semester of her sophomore year. Just exploring options and getting a taste of what colleges have to offer. I encouraged both girls to envision themselves living on the college campus, to envision doing that particular job everyday. 

Van Buren: When kids share their plans should parents try to talk them out of their plans/dreams or be supportive? 

Kibler: Parents should be supportive, even if it isn’t their dream for their child. You can encourage other opportunities as well. Providing a lot of options will open your child’s mind to what is available.  

Murphy: I encouraged them to follow the path of their dream by doing some research. Find out how to get from where you are to where you want to be. My youngest daughter has wanted to be a zoo keeper since she was four. I thought as she got older that would change but it never did.

So we made sure she took lots of science in high school including zoology. We researched schools and programs where she could major in zoology. There are not many, about 12 at the Bachelor’s level. Two in our area of the country. One about three hours away, one 10 hours away. We, as a family, toured them both. She immediately fell in love with the closer school. 

Van Buren: After high school how often should parents check in?

Kibler:  You need to provide your child room to grow, but also be there to provide guidance when needed. 

Murphy: I usually check in every couple days or so. To be honest with social media, I hear from them in some fashion daily. Most of the time it is a Snap chat or text message from them that gets the conversations started. I always loved when we first saw each other after school/work. That part of the day when they just unload about what happened at school, talked about classes etc.

I still get that from both of them. Maybe not every day but a few times a week. They will call in the evening and just chat about the day. I think it’s important at this stage to let them lead with contact. They’re unbelievably busy and I try very hard not to interrupt their days. But Snapchat is wonderful! It’s a quick check in and you get to see their faces which is what I miss the most. 

Van Buren: Do you think the level of checking in differ between boys and girls?

Kibler: I think boys may act more independent at times because society expects it of them, but they need as much support as girls.

Murphy: Honestly I don’t know, I am going to guess it’s similar.