My Top Four Conversation Starters to Get Your Teen to Open Up About Their Future
Rarely do teens ever want to talk about their futures, but they need help clarifying their dreams, so what do you do?
Teens are under a lot of pressure to have a great answer to the question invariably every adult in their universe asks: What are you going to do after high school?
It’s a tough question when you come to think about it!
We are asking 15-18-year-olds, who do not have a fully formed frontal lobe to tell us what they want to do with their LIFE.
At that age they literally have their whole life in front of them! How HARD is it to imagine what you will do for the rest of your life at that age?
And, if we’re honest, did we really have it all figured out? We may have had a great answer, but did we actually live out the plan we came up with at that age?
So, why do we keep asking teens to have it all figured out? Why do we celebrate them when they have a plan we agree with and question them when they don’t have a plan or their plans are not what we think they should be?
No wonder they don’t want to open up about their futures!
With that in mind, they do need to have a safe place to process their thoughts and ideas in order to formulate a plan, and we as parents, or educators, can help them trust us enough to share and help guide them into the future they want.
Here’s how to set them up for success:
1. Start with your own humility. You have most likely been a source of pressure. Admit it, and even admit you have had a specific plan in mind for your teen. There’s no shame in that. But your teen needs to hear you are with THEM no matter what plans they are considering. This creates a safe place to explore all the ideas they have.
This starter can go something like: "I know I have been asking you a lot lately about what you want to do after high school. I have even been telling you what I think you should do. I want you to know that instead I want to encourage you to follow YOUR dreams. I want you to know that I will love you no matter what you choose and I am here to help you process any and all ideas you have so that you can build the future YOU want."
Then walk away while they let that sink in without engaging in any sort of conversation.
2. Set your teen up for success. Most of the time, to our teens, our questions come out of nowhere and they are often caught like a deer in headlights; wholly unprepared and, as a result, they shut down. Instead, set your teen up to be in a frame of mind where they can actually process and respond thoughtfully.
This starter can go something like this: "You are a (year in school/age) now and it’s time we begin exploring potential options for you after high school. Let’s get together (name the date/time) at/for (name the place) and talk about your ideas."
This gives your teen time to think and can help you both have a much more productive conversation.
3. Celebrate your teen. Our teens have more opportunities available to them than we did, which is a wonderful thing. It is also TERRIFYING! It’s like being taken into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory and told you can only choose ONE thing to eat for the rest of your life! Teens need a safe place from which to stand and process their choices. We can help them create this place by guiding them into seeing themselves from outside themselves.
This starter can go something like this: "There are some amazing qualities, skills and talents I see in you. (Name them). How do you see yourself?" (discuss, focusing on the positive qualities/traits they name) "Considering all your positive traits/qualities, what do you think would be the best use of them to make the world you want to live in a better place?"
This conversation may start very awkwardly as teens have a very hard time seeing themselves realistically (don’t we all?).That’s OK! Be patient and keep at it.
Try to help your teen think outside the box. A teen who sees themselves as empathetic and a “counselor” to their friends is not automatically going to be a great counselor/psychologist. It means they can identify with others and have active listening skills. These skills can be good in ANY career so help them rethink how they might fit as a teacher, or as an auto mechanic, or as a home health aid, or…
NOTE: Again, this is NOT a conversation you should just start at the dinner table one random night. Give our teen a preview and let them know you will discuss at (day/time) in (place) so they can process and be prepared.
4. Challenge your teen. Teens often limit themselves to what they know. In a world where quite literally any information is available to them at a few keystrokes, they tend to stick to their comfort zones. The conversations we have with them can help open their eyes to potential scenarios they had never even heard of!
This starter can go something like this: "What careers have you totally written off?" (Wait for an answer). "What other careers can you name?" Invite them to include careers from shows they watch, YouTube people they follow, etc. Then challenge them to come up with 5 new careers they have never heard of before. You can help them create search topics like: "the top 5 money-making careers", or "the top 10 careers with the most growth", or "the top careers that don't require a college degree", etc. Then set a date for when you will go over their list and discuss what they learned. You can repeat this until they find a career they are interested in.
So, what’s the endgame for all of this? We take the pressure off our of having to have a complete life plan all figured out off of our teens and instead give them the support and freedom to explore. We get to help them process their ideas and dreams and turn them into viable career options which we THEN can help them use to determine potential post-graduation pathways instead of trying to do it the other way around!
Focusing on having conversations that help our teens develop an idea of the careers they want before choosing a post-graduation pathway can save everyone time, money, and disappointment. In the end, don't we all want our teens to build a post-graduation pathway they can be excited about?
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👉For more about the different options available to high school students and how to help them know which option or combination of options is best for them, check out Stephanie's newest book College Is Not Mandatory: A Parent's Guide to Navigating All the Options Available to Our Kids After High School.
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