Having High School aged kids means your life is filled with lots of challenges. For the kids, we are hoping they will juggle academics with sports, clubs, jobs, friends, romances, volunteering and ALSO plan their future by researching careers, educational paths and handling all things related to financial aid and scholarships. That is not just a full plate, that is enough to fill it, plus stuff falling off the edge. For parents, it is a time of endless hours in the car playing chauffeur to all of those activities, money slowly seeping out of your wallet in a constant trickle, and lots of emotions as we deal with our teens…pride, fear, admiration, frustration, annoyance, love, respect and very possibly all of them at the same time. Before breakfast. Daily.
One thing I did with my kids was to hand them new responsibilities as soon as they seemed ready. When I took my son up to his University orientation, they had a break-out session for parents. During that session, we were assured the university had a health clinic to care for students, but not a dental clinic. The speaker advised us to be sure to schedule a dental cleaning before the students head out to start school… “And be sure to have your student schedule the appointment, so they will know HOW to do that”. At this point, a gasp of shock and horror went through the audience at the thought of their student scheduling an appointment. Hundreds of parents having trouble believing their 18 year old child could handle this huge adult responsibility. I did not gasp…I had asked my kids to make their own appointments from the first day they passed their drivers tests.
As challenging as growing up is, we make it harder if we don’t let kids slowly assume responsibilities. When my kids started high school, they also earned the privilege of using my washing machine and dryer to wash their own clothes….and they learned all about sorting, folding, and the danger of leaving a load sitting wet in the washer for too long (and then how to get the moldy smell out). They were responsible for setting an alarm and getting to school on time. We taught them how to menu plan, how to shop, and eventually let them cook dinner occasionally for the whole family. Do your kids know how to address an envelope? Properly wrap and mail a package? Write a check? Pay a bill? Do they understand how credit cards work, and the danger of running up a high balance? It would be painful to try to figure all of that out on your own.
I started hanging out in the Career Center because I wanted to learn about the maze that is career search, college application, financial aid and finding scholarships. When I was in high school I did not even know scholarships existed. I was also excited to be a mentor to the kids with questions about those things. I figured the students who didn’t have parents would make up most of who we saw. Then I realized that students from families with no college background would also have lots of questions. Sure enough, I met students who fit those categories. I also met everyone else. All of the kids had questions, and it was fun to help them. There was one group I did NOT think would need mentoring. MY OWN KIDS. Mine could just ask me questions while I cooked dinner, right? Oh, but wait. No. If I started to chat about scholarships or FAFSA, my kids would roll their eyes or pat my shoulder with a smug “I’ve got this, Mom, don’t worry” look on their face. Then it was my turn to roll my eyes.
When my own child missed an important scholarship deadline, it was time to call out my secret weapon: Another Career Center Mom. While my kids were not interested in talking to me, they were delighted to talk to ANOTHER MOM. I confess, when I talk to a group of students at school, I feel like I suddenly become “cool”. It is so much fun to be COOL that I have put in 7 years volunteering and love every minute of it. The reality of growing up is that separating from Mom and Dad is part of the job. It is also true that talking to parents about scary things like Financial Aid and tuition fees can lead to lots of stress…but talking about it with someone who is not your parent is easier.
If you live in Oregon, it is very possible your high school has volunteer mentors in their Career Center. Sadly, there are always large numbers of kids waiting to be mentored with so many parents working these days. If you are a parent wanting to learn about college “stuff”, I highly recommend becoming a volunteer. You will be COOL in the eyes of all the students you mentor. (I was never “cool” before, so pardon me if it has gone to my head a bit).
What do you do if your school does not offer mentoring? Well, you used to share driving the car-pool, snack duty for the team, or babysitting with other parents. Is there another Mom or Dad you could share this job with?? You could mentor each-others kids. Does your kitchen regularly host a whole herd of teenagers? Consider being a mentor to the whole pack of them. Here is the best part: Mentors do not need to become experts on career exploration, colleges, scholarships or financial aid. If your student attends high school, there will be folks there who can answer their questions…what they need is a CHEERLEADER. Someone to encourage them to chase their plans, to find the deadlines, to write the essays. Someone to help them keep stuff from falling off the edge of their plate as they juggle the many demands high school Senior Year places on them.
I have met many wonderful parents in this mentoring journey. Many of them have shared that they would have made a much different decision as a new graduate if someone had been there to mentor them. Some had grades sufficient to go to college, but no one encouraged them, so they just got a job straight out of school. Others were offered scholarships, but had no idea what that meant, so did not go to college even with the funding in place. Even now, I meet students who could go on for training in a career field, be it college or trade school, but it has never been discussed at home, because no one in the family has ever done it before. Then there are the kids like mine, with really great parents, but who still need a cheerleader to help them meet the important deadlines, and stay on top of the big job that is Senior Year. Someone who isn’t Mom or Dad, because it makes you feel grown up to talk about the future with another grown up.
My goal in writing this blog is to present (in easy little bites) the process of helping kids find a path into a career they want….rather than live a life filled with the breathless excitement of working in fast food: Will today be burger flipping…..or bathroom cleaning?! While I have tried to learn all about this process, one thing is very true. It only takes ONE skill to be a mentor. The ability to cheer. Once your student has a dream to chase, nothing will stop them. They will find someone at school or a website online for the tricky questions about scholarships, about financial aid, about writing essays. For you parents: Please help them slowly assume those grown up chores they are ready for. Encourage your children…and be a mentor to the crowd in the kitchen.
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Photo credit: a-shuhani on Unsplash