Future plans: six tips to deal with teen's differing life goals

In searching for their identity, teenagers often change course on their education and career goals, frustrating parents who have different paths in mind. These six tips remind parents to keep things in perspective.

Fredrik Norrsell/National Outdoor Leadership School/AP
Many students are taking a 'gap year' between high school and college, though parents are concerned this is not the best choice in this economy. Sonnet Ludwig, now a student at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., went on a sea kayaking trip to Nordland, Norway in 2010 with the National Outdoor Leadership School.

She came to me confused and disappointed. Her daughter, a sophomore in high school, had come to her the night before and announced she was no longer interested in playing field hockey. Her daughter is a gifted athlete who had invested much time and energy into the sport, and, well, so had her parents. In fact, her parents had encouraged this pursuit not only because of their daughter’s abilities, but also with the secret hope that her skill at the game could get her at least a partial scholarship to college.

I should add that the woman herself was also a gifted athlete. She had gone to school on a field hockey scholarship and was captain of her team in college.

Maybe you are dealing with a different situation:  He wants to be a rock star and his music is his life, which is fine, but what about his school work?

Maybe you run a boutique that you were hoping to have her take over but her interests are in marine biology. Maybe you played football or baseball and although he has always been a gifted athlete, he chooses art classes instead. As a parent it can be frustrating and disappointing when your teen chooses a different avenue to pursue than perhaps you would have chosen for him. This is especially challenging when, as highlighted in the scenario above, your teen appears to veer completely off the path she had started.

It is important to remember that a major goal of adolescence is to find one’s identity.  It is estimated that the majority of adults will change careers at least once in a lifetime. Like cat’s our work path can have many lives.

In tough economic times when job opportunities are often difficult to come by, it is even more common for older teens/young adults to change course. As a parent, this may seem counterintuitive. If your son has just graduated with a specialized degree, you may assume that because the market is more difficult he will put all his energy and focus into securing an opportunity in his chosen field. However, in reality, the frustration and disappointment for late teens/early adults can be so intense that it is not uncommon for them to seemingly put their dreams on hold and pursue new avenues, for example, take a year off and travel. Even more frightening for parents is when teens graduating from high school make a similar decision. Taking a gap year between the end of high school and beginning of school or somewhere in between is becoming a more common practice.

How do you cope? Here are some suggestions:

1.) Keep it all in perspective. Of course you want the best for your teen. While his dreams may not be yours, you have raised a happy, healthy and ambitious child. Things could certainly be worse…

2.) Even if you don’t agree with your child’s pursuits, offer support and guidance. Your teens need you. Withholding the very things they turn to you for will help no one.

3.) The best lessons are learned by trying. Although you may believe your teen has chosen to pursue the impossible, there are many lessons to be learned by going for it.

4.) If your teen suddenly veers off the course you had forged together, talk with him. Sometimes our teens originally choose the paths they believe you want them to take. As they get older, and develop their own sense of self they may decide they want to pursue other avenues. Although it may seem like he is making a careless decision, talk with him. You may be surprised to find that he actually has a well thought out plan that he has been developing for quite some time.

5.) There is always room for compromise. If you believe your teen is making a decision that could negatively impact her future, discuss a middle ground. If for example, she wants top go to art school after graduation and you are worried she will close off her career options in such a specialized pursuit, suggest she look at schools which provide an emphasis on art and academics.

6.) You were her age once too. Think back to your teen years. While circumstances may have been different, you had hopes and dreams. Remember what it felt like to have the whole wide world ahead of you, the sky was the limit. This may give you some perspective on where your teen is coming from.

And hey, you never know. Remember if you can dream it, you can be it!

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Jennifer Powell-Lunder and Barbara Greenberg blogs at Talking Teenage.

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