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Let’s allow teens to press pause on post-secondary plans if they’re not sure of their path

This story is part of Amy Bell’s Parental Guidance column, which airs on CBC Radio One’s The Early Edition.


Recently, my Grade 10 daughter began the difficult process of identifying what she might like to do when she’s older.

While she weighs her options, all I see is the little girl who insisted on being a school bus when she grew up – not a school bus driver, but an actual school bus.

She may have matured beyond those days, but she still can’t vote and she still can’t drive – she’s still just a kid. So why are we expecting her and her classmates to make choices that could have extraordinary ramifications for their adult selves?

Of course, some teens, and some people in general, seem to always have a well rounded view of the world and a big appetite for learning more about life.

Grade 11 student Aidan Floyd counts himself lucky to have a lot of curiosity and to have the privilege and support of his family to have pursued a lot of different interests already. But now he’s set his sights on engineering at UBC once he finishes high school, and that means less time for other interests.

“It definitely does feel like … I have to sort of streamline the rest of my life toward that,” says Floyd.

Even though he’s doing well academically, he still feels a lot of pressure to achieve his goal.

“I’m worried, and I’m in a pretty good place,” he said.

It’s about what makes you happy

There does seem to be a shift in the way we view post-secondary studies, with gap years spent traveling or working to save up tuition money becoming more common.

Some of that is arguably because many of today’s parents felt pressured into studies they didn’t ultimately enjoy or pursue when they were younger, and so felt a bit lost while they discovered their paths.

For Emily Wight, university right after high-school graduation was pretty non-negotiable from her parents’ point of view, but it left her struggling to find what she truly connected with.

After seven years at university, with a few different majors tried on for size, she finally got her degree – and a different outlook on how she wants her son to see his future.

“We’re more talking about, ‘What is it you want to do in your life and what makes you happy, and what do you have to do to get there?'” Says Wight.

“We’re trying to not focus specifically on, ‘Go to university and get a job.’ Figure out what your life should look like or what would make you happy. ”

Time off from school isn’t wasted time

So, what can you do if your child shows no interest in planning for their post-secondary school lives?

It can be hard for parents to think about their kids not having a concrete goal, but it doesn’t mean they’ll graduate high school and transition to your couch forevermore.

EducationPlannerBC is an excellent resource for students as they start to make plans for life after high school. It lists every single program that’s available at every single public post-secondary school in BC

Executive director Karen McCredie stresses that teens who are indecisive about their futures are not falling behind their peers, and are actually right where they need to be.

“The most important thing I tell parents and students all the time is that it’s actually totally OK to not know what you want to do, and it’s really exciting to not know what you want to do,” says McCredie.

“You’ve now got a couple of years to really explore and experiment and research. Embrace this opportunity.”

Of course, money is always a huge issue. Student loans can be an enormous burden and stress for decades after school has been completed.

But until the day we make post-secondary education free, taking some time off to work and gain practical experience while saving money for tuition can be valuable on many levels.

Regardless of what my children choose to do for work in the future – and when they choose to start on the path to that goal – I don’t want it to define them. Jobs should not be your identity. We put too much emphasis on what we do as opposed to who we are.

And who knows, maybe my son’s long held dream of being an astronaut cop to fight all the space crime that he feels is inevitable will come true? Until then, I will support him and his sister in whatever path they take, no matter how long it takes them to travel it.

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