I REALLY love helping kids find ways to succeed. It’s one of my favorite things. So of course, I’ve tried to find ways to help my own children launch successfully- and I want to share, so that you can help your kids launch successfully as well.
Why we need to help our kids launch
Whenever my teenagers have friends over, I love to talk to them about their plans and things they like. In the last month, I had three high school seniors or newly graduated seniors all tell me that they didn’t know what they wanted to do with their life–which is pretty normal.
The reason this stuck with me however, is because they told me that their parents don’t talk to them about their future plans. The teens felt overwhelmed, unsure what to do, and a bit abandoned. I know of another two teens that knew what they wanted to do, but they weren’t able to figure out the process and are now left in limbo.
As we raise teenagers, it can be really hard to know when to step in and when to step away. I’m feeling this right now.
We need to give our kids independence–but we also need to prepare them for it. They NEED us.
They’ve never done this “adulting” thing before and not only are they worried about typical teenage stuff, but once they become a senior, they start worrying about money, a career, how to make a living, whether or not they should go to college, if they should take a gap year, etc.
When we TELL ours kids what plans they should make or what to do, that can cause problems. But when we ASK them what they want to do and how we can help, it shows love. It shows confidence in them. Helping our kids launch mostly involves listening.
I’m still navigating and trying to figure all of this out, but here are a few things we are doing to help our kids launch into success:
1. Help Them Obtain Skills
We try to help our kids have a specific skill or trade before they leave high school. Our reasoning is that if they have a specific skill set (even if they don’t love it or want to pursue it further), that will help them earn more than the typical minimum wage as they go to college or chase other dreams. If the economy changes, it may help them pivot easier. If they have a job loss, they have something to fall back on. Additionally, they can save themselves money by doing something themselves instead of hiring it out. We help them get skills in a couple of ways:
Internships are a really great way for our kids to get real-world experience in a field, to try it out and see if they like it. They might also get paid for this experimentation! But even if they don’t get paid, they still avoid taking expensive classes. That is a huge win! And if your child ends up hating it–that just gets them one step closer to finding what they DO like-which is valuable as well. Either way, they get training and a skill set.
When my daughter was interested in journalism, we asked the local paper if they had any internships available. They didn’t. You might run across this, too. That’s ok! Just ask them if it is something they would consider. That is how my daughter got her paid internship that helped her decided that she didn’t want to consider journalism or social media marketing as a career. Even though she doesn’t want to pursue it long term, it has been a blessing in her life. She still has the job (it is helping her to pay for her first year of college), and someone else literally paid for her to experiment. This internship also looks a whole lot better on her resume than a job at a fast-food place or something similar.
Trade School in High School
A lot of schools have this option, and many times it will lead to an Associates degree as well. (How cool is that?!) My son is currently in the welding program at our local high school. By the time he graduates, he will have several state welding certifications, as well as his Associates degree. He just saved two years of college (this program is FREE!), and has a great skill that will pay him far more that what he could otherwise find and it will continue to help him throughout his life. He’s not sure what he wants to do for a living yet (it probably won’t be welding), but at least he can make a living while he figures it out.
2. Help them get to know themselves
Getting to know yourself is a big part of life. If our kids can do this sooner rather than later, that is a huge leg up for them, as they consider their options and make decisions. We try to help our kids try a variety of things and even give gifts for birthdays and Christmas with this goal. Electives, after school clubs, or extra classes in the summertime also can help with this: public speaking, robotics, computer programming, sports, CPR certifications, etc. Scouting programs or the equivalent can also help with learning new things.
My second son likes to do a lot of things, but doesn’t know what he wants to do for a career- except he knows that the trades are not his thing. I’m going to encourage him to start a list of “True Things About Me”. Here he can list what he is good at (or not), what he likes (or doesn’t), and keep track of it all. Sometimes in the moment, we can’t think of things, but if we make a reference list we can keep adding to, it can be really helpful.
One day I made a quick mental list of what he likes: theater, music, and busy cities are just a few. I crave quiet, and he craves noise. I have suggested to him that he call our local radio station and see if he can intern there, so he can learn how to use radio and sound machinery. If he can do that, he can work for a variety of radio stations, bands or theater companies. It’s just a thought, and I don’t know if it will go anywhere, but it might be a good starting point. So many people work at jobs they hate. I want my kids to know what they like and go from there.
Much like your family, our kids get jobs over the summer, and if their schedule allows, they also work during the year. My kids have babysat and tended gardens, livestock, and pets when owners are away. One son works for an excavator every summer and has learned the basics of a skid steer. Another son is working for a local theater company and is directing a children’s play. He knows that it can be a bit more difficult to make a living in the arts, so he is trying out not only performing, but also directing or anything else he can experiment with (hence my suggestion for the sound machinery- is that even the right word for it?). I’m so grateful for small business owners who allow teens to work for them and try different things!
4. Tools and Home Repair
This is a bit more of the same, but everyone should know how to fix a leaky faucet and have the tools to do so. Changing the oil in the car, fixing burst pipes, etc. are just good skills to have. They can save money, but it could also help them get entry level jobs and pursue mechanics, plumbing, etc. if they wish too. This is another reason we give our kids tools every Christmas.
5. Use Outside Resources
Sometimes we don’t know how to help our kids launch- even though we want to! I love finding people with different strengths, and Heather Glenn from Aligned Ambition is REALLY good at helping kids (or adults!) find their strengths and the careers that align with them. She has several free printables and exercises on her website, but I also highly recommend her courses. Additionally, Heather has a free podcast where she interviews people in various professions about their jobs. She is on Instagram and is a really great resource for anyone wanting to make a decision on a career, or looking for a change.
This is a bit of a different track but stay with me. Our kids need mentors who love them, care about them, and have no outside agenda other than wanting them to be successful and happy. These mentors have valuable life experiences and have gone through the phases that our kids will be going through. Having these mentors give loving, specific advice about being an adult, choosing a career, dating, finding a spouse and preparing for the future, and expressing confidence in them, can be a life-changing event for our children. We do these Coming of Age Celebrations for all our children, and they have been priceless.
6. Help them with paperwork and registration
I know of two teens who wanted to sign up for classes at our local community college, but were unable to figure out the registration process and missed the deadline. They didn’t know they could ask the registrar for help, or else were too embarrassed to. The desire was there, but sometimes we all need help with adulting.
Their parents could have made a difference in this situation by asking questions about their plans, asking how they could help, or in one case, just helping their child find their birth certificate.
Sometimes we forget that our kids don’t know everything that we know. When we get frustrated with our child’s inaction or think they are lazy, perhaps we should consider that part of the process might be overwhelming or they just don’t know what to do. You probably have more experience with paperwork and can teach them how to overcome that hurdle. If you don’t, you can show them a great example by making phone calls and asking around to get the help that is needed.
7. Talk to them about Money
Money can overwhelm adults– so of course it has the potential to overwhelm teens, too! Help them calculate their potential expenses: rent, utilities, phones, food, entertainment, etc. This can impact their decisions. Also help them research careers and how much money they can expect to make. This can be eye-opening, and may affect their spending, lifestyle expectations and decisions.
I’ll bet you are already doing a lot of these things in your family to help your kids launch, but hopefully this list will help fill in some gaps. As we share this preparation process with our children, ask them what they enjoy and brainstorm various options with them, they will feel more loved and more confident.