Recently, one of my sons seemed a little off. Before bed I finally just asked him what was going on. He spilled out then that he was feeling super stressed about his future. In my head, I was like, “What!? You’re hardly a teenager! What is there to stress about?” but I held back. He went on to confess that he sometimes lays awake at night concerned about what kind of job he’ll have, how he’ll provide for a family, and on and on.
It kind of broke my heart to think my kid was carrying that burden at such a young age. These are the years to enjoy life, dream big for the future, and sleep…well, like a teenager. I would have had no idea he felt like this. Of course I was so glad he felt comfortable talking to me about it, and determined then to help him find more peace on the topic.
Today we dive into the 2nd Conversation in our new series:
Talking to your kids about their FUTURE.
When our kids are little, most of us have the “What do you want to be when you grow up” talks, but as they get into their teen years, the topic carries a bit more pressure. By their teenage years things move from dreamy notions to actual future plans: College. Jobs. Family. The big/bad/scary/wonderful real world (depending on the day and the mood.)
This topic is important because similar to the last conversation in this series, whether or not you talk to your kids about it, I guarantee you they are thinking about it. (or they will be soon.) (and if not, they probably should be. 🙂 )
And like my own son confessed, it may be on their mind much more than you realize.
As I sat down to talk with my son about things, he admitted that his anxiety came from a few places: He has heard my husband and I talk about cost of living, (it’s kind of insanely high here in Hawaii) and how hard it is for families to get by. He sees the news and hears about how hard it is to get jobs out of college, and he is aware of economic issues in our world. He mentioned conversations he’s had with young adults who admitted they were in debt and have to work two jobs. Even more, he was getting anxious because he hasn’t found one future occupation that he imagines would fit him perfectly.
“Shouldn’t I know by now what I want to do when I am an adult?”
I smiled at that question as I assured him that I didn’t even choose my major until my junior year of college. And even then I still wasn’t really sure.
(I’m not sure that helped.)
Sometimes our kids carry burdens we don’t even know about. They may hide behind their activities or social life, but deep down they are taking in the things they see on the news, hear us discuss, or pick up from other people. When we harp on our kids about homework or college applications or SAT tests, they might be taking it in more than we know.
Most teenagers carry a burden about their future, even if they don’t know how to articulate it.
And of course, kids should think about their future. It is coming, and faster than any of us can imagine. (I say this as my oldest is graduating high school. Because I’m positive he was in third grade last week.) Everything our teenagers do today is carving out their future. Every influence in their life will play a role. And (between you and me) there is reason to stress; I’ve heard that our generation of kids will be the first to make less money than their parents. Not that it’s all about money, but that says a lot about the world our kids are being raised in.
As our kids hit their teenage years, we want to offer them support and encouragement, acting as mentors as they approach their future with thoughtfulness, intention, and some practical wisdom.
Once again, this isn’t a post to tell you what to tell your kids, but instead to suggest some talking points that will help you get started. I hope this is a springboard for some really healthy conversations with your teens and tweens.
TALKING POINTS FOR CONVERSATIONS WITH YOUR TEENS ON THEIR FUTURE
1. First, ask open-ended questions: “Do you think about your future much?” “What do you think about?” Give your son or daughter a chance to share. If they don’t say much, that is ok–this is great time to get their wheels turning. Return to the topic again later if they’re not ready to talk.
2. Encourage your teen to begin to begin to dream of the person they want to be one day. This is about more than a job; it’s about character, lifestyle, family, etc. Where do they imagine living? Do they hope to have a family? How does their hobbies or faith play a role in what they imagine? Encourage them to journal some of these things.
3. Talk careers. Some kids have their heart set on what they want to do from an early age. Many (like my son) do not. Some change their mind every other week. It’s all ok. If they have some ideas, you might ask what they like about that career. You can learn more about career through the internet, and if you know someone who works in that field, you might be able to set up visits or spend time talking to them about it.
**Side note: I have heard it suggested that instead of asking “What do you want to BE when you grow up”, you take other approaches, like asking: “What problems do you want to solve?” Those are all great ideas, though practically speaking, we need to remember that not every job is about solving problems. Some kids dream of flying airplanes or crafting jewelry or opening a small business. (or any number of things.) I suggest that a great occupation is about working hard with your gifts and talents, and being fairly rewarded for your work.
4. Help your kids connect some dots. This is the reality checkpoint. This is the part that doesn’t always come natural for teenagers (something about the frontal cortex of the brain, but let’s not get technical here.) They may tell you that they want to be a surgeon, but they are hardly passing their Biology class. They may dream of being a professional athlete, but they don’t even workout in the off-season. We’re not trying to kill vibes here, but helping kids develop realistic goals and dreams is the good and loving thing to do. The best way to do this is to guide your kid in figuring this out for themselves. So you might suggest they look up what it takes to get into Harvard, or how many hours most professional basketball players train in a week. Help them grow up and realize what it takes to get where they want to be. Then choose some realistic goals.
5. Introduce the topic of taxes, practically. As your kids get a little older, you can help them understand taxes, and be sure they know how to fill out forms when they begin to get ‘real jobs.’ Schools don’t typically teach this well, so it’s up to us to help them learn what they need to. One of my boys made a small mistake on his tax form and ended up with all kinds of headaches sorting it out later. After wondering, “when will my refund come?” for many months he realized he had to make amendments to his paperwork in order to even get the refund. He’s been very careful ever since!
6. Speak life. This world can be a harsh place, and plenty of voices want to scare the bejeebers out of our kids. They don’t have to look far to feel intimidated, overwhelmed, and even hopeless about their future. As parents we should look for areas our kids are gifted, have potential, or excellent character, and speak it out. Recently I saw my son (the same one) studying really hard: alone at a desk, head down, scribbling notes…And I spoke up across the room, “Hey! I see you working hard back there. And you know what? Being a hard worker is truly the key to success in anything you do. I have no doubt that whatever God has for your future will be amazing, and you will discover it at just the right time, and your future will be satisfying and rewarding. I believe you will have a great job, and a happy family. And then I think you’ll look back and wonder why you ever worried.” Those words may not have changed everything, but I saw him smile. Knowing someone has confidence in you can make a world of difference.
7. Help your kid make some plans!
As your teen gets further in to high school, they really do need to get practical about their future plans. I’m all about teens being independent, but a little support from mom and dad can go a long way. Stressed about standardized testing? Help them find some online study guides, or hire a tutor if you can. College options overwhelming? Make an appointment with a school counselor, or call a friend who has gone before you to get some advice. Sometimes the best cure for anxiety is sitting down and making a plan. (that goes for parents too, BTW.)
Dave and I have one friend who, though very smart, just didn’t enjoy school. He endured high school, but the thought of college just made him nauseous. This kid was lucky to have parents who were tuned into their son and how he was wired. He told us the story of his father sitting down with him and discussing his future options. Given his gifts and interests, his dad encouraged him to consider among other things– being a fire fighter. Instead of paying for a college tuition that would be miserable at best, his dad offered to support him while he got certifications that would make him a good candidate, and train to become a firefighter. The son liked that idea (and was extremely relieved not to have to face college) and many years later is a firefighter with a very rewarding job. College is not for everyone, and that is ok. Sometimes investing time or money into internships or training is a much better option. As parents we ought to be looking at each of our kids individually and helping them form a plan according to their interests, gifts, and opportunities
8. Pray! If you are a person of faith, I encourage you to pray for your kids, and WITH your kids. Pointing them to the One who holds their future is the very best thing you can do for your kid. They are not in this alone. Seeking God’s best for them, and asking Him for guidance will give them peace, and the assurance. (One of the first verses we teach our kids to memorize is Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all of your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.”) If your child tends to be anxious, or lie awake carrying the weight of the world (or grades or college — ) then praying through their worries is the very best remedy.
There are, of course, many factors that will determine the path your child takes once they leave the nest. We cannot control everything (nor should we try to) but we should never underestimate the influence we have in our kids’ lives.
OK parents–now it’s your turn! I hope you will carve out time to talk to your tween or teen about their future in the near future. Let me know how it goes, ok?
Luke and I put together a short YouTube Video on this topic! Click HERE to hop over to my Youtube channel and have a watch. This one is a bit more fun and casual (he’s only in 7th grade so we didn’t dive into the nitty gritty of “future plans”.) If nothing else these videos are a good way to get to know my boys a little…Hope your kids might enjoy it as well!
And as always, I’d love it if you’d share this post (and series) with your friends using the social media share buttons below.
PS I should mention that my son and I — along with my husband — have had many good chats since the opening story. He doesn’t have his future mapped out entirely yet, but he knows he’s on the right track. And he knows he’s not alone. 🙂