Friday, December 2, 2011

Transition: What's next after high school?

Two of my grandsons, the eldest two, are about to graduate from high school. Their parents are thinking about what the next steps will be for these boys, and I suspect the boys might be giving it some thought too. I like my position as grandmother, one who has a little distance from the momentous step these boys are about to take.

I do have some pretty strong opinions about the transition from high school to young adulthood. My ideas are based on watching my own 3 children make the transition and also come from witnessing the children of friends and family as well as hundreds of young people at Columbia College take this step.

I think kids need to embark on a growth inducing activity immediately after high school, in particular one that throws them out of their comfort zone into an environment that challenges them. The degree of challenge depends on the kid, but it should definitely push their edges, make them feel uncomfortable and confused and ultimately provide the space and support to develop effective decision making skills. In most cases, this involves moving to a new setting away from the home and family in which the child was raised.

Here are some of the things I've seen accomplish this transition effectively:
  • going to a foreign country either as a student, a missionary, or a traveler,
  • going into the military,
  • doing service work, e.g. working in inner city schools or conversely wilderness areas, assisting in a disaster or poverty torn area, Ameri-Corps, California Conservation Corps, or other service directed group,
  • getting a full time job,
  • moving into an apartment or dormitory with roommates,
  • getting married.
Notice that I don't include going to college in this list. While attending college might be part of any of these, the school experience is not fresh enough to give kids the PUSH they need at this time. There has to be an element of challenge and discomfort that comes from moving to a unique setting where they have to think and decide.

I recognize that the discomfort also hits the parents because they have to watch with a certain amount of hands off approach. It can be an incredibly scary time. At best, they have to offer moral support and maybe a little financial assistance, but the trick is getting out of the kid's way and letting him or her muddle through. In most cases, this takes about a year for something fairly dramatic to take place

Of course, there are a few for whom it will take many years because of developmental and or psychological differences, and there are many parents who stymie their kids by being too intrusive or directive which makes the passage take longer. And yes, there are kids who go wildly astray, driven by incomprehensible forces both internal and external. But a large majority of the kids I've watched make their way with only a few tumbles, scrapes, and bruises.

I don't think the "what" is as important as the "how." That's not to diminish the intensity of what parents feel as they try to guide an offspring toward the setting that will accomplish the most effective transition. There are probably several possibilities, but once launched, the work is to breathe while the young person learns to swim into adulthood.

It's as exciting and disconcerting as any other stage of parenting.