For many teenagers, the prospect of getting a job and starting a life of their own can feel a bit like staring into the abyss. Without the right guidance and support, many teens experience anxiety and episodes of depression, often acting out because they don’t know how to deal with the myriad of life-changing decisions they are faced with.

Is your teen struggling to find a path they are excited to follow? Are they sticking their head in the sand and refusing to make any decisions at all? Here are a few simple ways to support your teen in the quest to find their purpose, and create a life and career they adore…

The summer after I finished high school was a blurry mess of wild nights, panic attacks and screaming matches with my parents. I’d spent the entire summer “celebrating” i.e. trying to forget about the future by drinking myself into a coma, and as the new year drew closer I retreated further away from family and friends and into my own bubble of anxiety and disconnection.

I couldn’t wait to leave home and start my new life, but I felt totally ill-equipped to establish myself in the “real” world. Being asked to make such massive life-changing decisions about my future felt like being thrown in the deep end, and while everyone around me seemed to be swimming, all of my “potential” was weighing me down. I felt so many expectations upon me; from teachers, friends, my parents and a constant pressure to be “successful” which; from what I could gather, meant getting into the best University, studying the most prestigious degree your marks would allow and then choosing a career with the highest earning potential.

‘But I have no idea what I want to study!’ I protested.

‘You’ll figure it out when you get there,’ was the usual response.

So I moved to the closest city and enrolled in the degree that sounded the least objectionable. What followed was a battle with depression and anxiety, a series of life-altering mistakes and a journey down the path of self destruction that cracked me open, brought me to my knees and – after a lot of unnecessary pain – lead me to discover my true purpose. 

Looking back, it didn’t need to be that hard. My journey has lead me to where I am today and I wouldn’t change a moment of it. But if I can help one young person circumvent the panic attacks, the sense of hopelessness, the fear that arises out of indecision and the pressure to conform to societies definition of success, then I have been of service.

My vision is a world where teenagers are empowered to discover their innate talents and abilities and encouraged to use them in the service of others to create a career that fulfils them and their purpose on this earth.

And for me, discovering that purpose starts at home.

For a lot of parents, a child’s senior year is the ‘home stretch’, you might be able to see the light of independence at the end of the adolescent tunnel. And after years of dealing with a moody teenager, it seems more appropriate to pull away than actively engage in the transition process. Unfortunately, this can lead to young people feeling more alone than ever, and while they might be more than equipped to handle whatever life throws at them, feeling your support and gentle encouragement is fundamental during this time. 

If your teen is struggling to figure out out their next steps after graduation, here are some simple things you can do to get them back on track, and set them up for a future they can’t WAIT to start living;

1. Re-define success. Your teenager is growing up in a world very different from the one you grew up in. The internet and the information age are a complete game-changer in terms of career opportunity. Your child will probably be doing a job that didn’t exist twenty years ago, and if they can’t find something they like, an entrepreneurial spirit and the online marketplace means they can create one!! (Being a Life Coach certainly wasn’t on the list of career opportunities we were handed in high school!) Try not to get caught in the trap of thinking your teen needs a University degree to be successful, the two greatest commodities of the twenty first century are creativity and innovation, and encouraging your child to think outside the box when figuring out what success means to them, will make sure they don’t just love the end result, but enjoy the journey it takes to get them there.  

2. Play to their strengths. What is your teenager really good at? What lights them up like nothing else? The key to finding their calling is to find the place where their greatest joy meets the worlds greatest need. What do others ask them for help with? What could they talk for hours about? Instead of investing in a maths tutor to help your literary nerd, why not enrol them in a writing competition? Constantly trying to improve in areas where there’s no natural ability can cripple a teenagers self esteem. While engaging in activities they are naturally good at will boost their confidence and perhaps even spark ideas about how to make a living from their passion.

3. Embrace their differences. Underneath the labels, insecurities and expectations, exists the real individual that knows exactly what he or she needs to do to change the world, help them uncover it. What sets them apart from others their age? Let go of your expectations about who they should be and create space for them to be who they are. Chances are it’s greater than anything you could ever imagine 😉

4. Get them out of their comfort zone. Whether it be an internship, a part time job or volunteer work, help them step outside their comfort zone and into scenarios that bring out the best in them. Present them with opportunities to learn and grow as individuals. Often clarity comes from engagement rather than thought and as they venture into new terrain, they will get a better understanding of the communities and workplaces that resonate with who they are and who they want to be.

5. Be the safety net. Most of us know that in order to succeed we need to fail over and over again. From an emotional standpoint, letting your teen know you’re there to catch them if they fall gives them the courage to try new things. The greater the risk, the greater the reward.

6. Foster social responsibility. At every stage in their development, make helping others a priority. Teach them to see problems in the world as opportunities. Where are there people they can help? How can they use the experiences they have had, the talents they have been given and the skills they are excited to learn to add value to the life of another living being? When we use our gifts in service of others we are fulfilled, energised and inspired and we enrich the lives of our families, friends and communities. That sounds pretty successful to me.

7. Be a cheerleader. Does your teen respond to verbal praise, public recognition or physical affection? Persistently praise their creativity, their willingness to try new things and their resilience in the face of rejection. The thing about Gen Y is that behind our perceived entitlement lies a bundle of insecurities that need constant, no-holds-barred encouragement. Help us keep our fear voices at bay and remind us of our incredible capacity to change the world. 

8. Lead by example. Holding on to resentment about your own unrealised dreams is the fastest way to drive a wedge between you and your children. The most inspiring message you can send is your example. If the path you’re on now isn’t the one you envisioned for yourself when you were first starting out, perhaps this is the perfect opportunity for both of you to discover your purpose, find the fulfilment you deserve and live a life you adore.

The current education model was developed to meet the needs of the industrial era and it’s going to take years for the research being done now about the importance of creative thinking and emotional intelligence to reach our classrooms. For this reason, it’s so important for parents to nurture their child’s desire to solve problems and help them find the point where their talent and interests collide.

Present them with opportunity; share something you found online, take them to a library and seeing what books they pull out, and most importantly, surround them with people who will motivate, encourage and inspire them on their journey.

A parents job is not to say to their child, ‘tell me what you want to be when you grow up,’ it is to look for what makes their eyes light up,
to listen for what makes their heart sing,
to let them teach us new and exciting ways of looking at the world
and to love them through every mistake, every wrong turn, every bad decision and crazy adventure, every failed plan and dream
until eventually, one of them comes true.

Want more personalised support for your teen? Want to help them gain confidence, courage and clarity around their future? Nothing makes me happier than using the wisdom of my experience to help 16-25yr olds regain their confidence, own their worth and map out a vision and path they are excited to follow. Contact me about 1:1 mentoring here.