Life After High School: Tips for a Healthy Transition
As high school graduations are wrapping up, students and their families are undoubtedly navigating a range of emotions about the changes headed their way in the coming weeks and months. Though this can be an exciting time, it’s normal for adolescents and parents to experience everything from excitement and joy to disappointment and uncertainty.
Whether college or trade school bound, taking a gap year, starting a job, or moving away from home, this stage marks a significant milestone in a young person’s life. Over the summer, students will be spending time with their friends and dreaming about the new experiences the future will soon bring. Fast forward a few months and this excitement can turn to nervous energy, fear of the unknown, and a realization that life is about to change.
Adjusting to life away from home, new routines, managing challenging classes, balancing part-time or full-time work, while also trying to make friends in an unfamiliar environment can be scary. As adults we have experienced many transitions over the course of our lives, but we have also built up a wealth of strategies that we can pull from to help us move forward. Providing guidance to our kids as they develop these abilities will help ensure that they move into adulthood feeling empowered and capable.
As much as teenagers say they can’t wait to move-out and are ready to get on with the next big chapter, your child may be Ill-prepared for the academic, social, and emotional challenges that life will surely bring. Research from the National Institutes of Health indicates rising rates of mental health and substance abuse problems in individuals between 14 and 25, and many of those may go without receiving any treatment or support. Ensuring your child has skills, strategies, connections with family, community and peers, and access to local resources can help ease this transition so they can thrive.
1) Encourage them to talk about their expectations and fears.
What are they most excited about?
How do they feel about being done with high school, moving away from home, or saying goodbye to their friends?
What is their vision for the next few months or even a year from now?
What are they most afraid of?
Your child needs to know that they can talk to you about their thoughts, feelings, and dreams without judgement. Practice active listening, such as reflecting, validating, or just staying silent. Use phrases like “it sounds like….”, or “I hear you saying…” to communicate that you are listening and trying to understand what they are thinking and feeling.
Before offering advice, ask if they would like to hear it first. Sometimes they just need us to stay silent and give them time to process. There’s a lot that they are thinking about.
2) Empower them!
If your young adult doesn’t yet know how to operate the washing machine, schedule routine appointments, grocery shop, or cook some simple and healthy meals, now is the time to teach them. Additionally, time management and organizational habits, basic self-care and knowing when and how to ask for help are important skills that will support their success.
Brainstorm about resources and solutions for the areas where they struggle. Use open ended questions to help them work through challenges like: “I can see that you are feeling stuck. What is going to have to change? What do you think you might do?”
Resist the urge to jump in with advice and allow time for them to come up with their own ideas. If they make a meal that doesn’t turn out, that is ok. The goal isn’t mastery. They get to mastery through trial and error. The more they have the opportunity to work through challenges, the more they develop the self-efficacy needed to fly confidently into adulthood.
If your teen is having difficulties that they are unable to figure out on their own, then it is ok to step in. Ask if they would like some suggestions or would like help finding additional support. Listen to your gut. We want to encourage independent problem solving to build self-efficacy, yet they are learning and experiencing some things for the first time. There may be circumstances that require you as a parent to get more involved.
3) Support a predictable routine.
The number one challenge I hear from recent high school graduates and college students is that an unpredictable routine is one of the hardest things they have experienced since leaving home. When kids are in high school, they are in class for about 7 hours a day. With homework, extracurricular activities and jobs, there isn’t a lot of idle time and life is somewhat predictable.
Compare this to college life, for example, where they may only have a couple of classes each day. It’s easy to see why so many find this change to be difficult. For the first time, they are living independently and may have a very loose and unstructured routine. Managing time, staying organized and taking care of oneself becomes a new challenge. This can be a helpful conversation to have with your young adult as they prepare for life beyond high school, whichever path they are headed down.
4) Don’t hover!
In today’s world of text messaging and social media, it’s possible for us to stay connected to our young adult children all the time. However, this is not what they need to begin to find their way independently. In fact, studies show that overparenting in the form of helicopter/snowplow/bulldozer (whatever you want to call it) can directly impact mental wellbeing and disrupt the normal developmental processes related to one’s sense of autonomy and competence.
Connect with your child occasionally but expect that they will let you know if they need something. Give them space to grow and figure things out on their own. When you do connect assess how things are going by asking what they are learning in their classes or at work, or if they have connected with some new friends. If something isn’t going well, resist the urge to offer advice or get overly involved. Use those active listening skills and open-ended questions to engage with them in a supportive and nonjudgmental way.
5) Expect a bumpy road.
Lastly, moving beyond high school and into adulthood will come with some bumps in the road. This age is marked by exploring new interests, struggling through challenging classes, dealing with difficult roommates, bombing a test or two, or getting fired from a job.
As much as we want smooth sailing for our kids, it is normal and healthy to experience failure. Encourage and love them as they come to these bumps, guide them to find healthy solutions and helpful resources, and enjoy the process of watching them mature as independent and responsible young adults.
Are you interested in support for a stressed, overwhelmed or underperforming teen or young adult? Please reach out to me to see how my wellness coaching program for teens and young adults can help. For students heading to college in the fall, reach out to learn more about my college jump start program.
Hi, I'm Yvette! As a former school psychologist and National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach, I bring years of experience working with adolescents and young adults, and proven strategies to support learning and growth to guide my clients. I help them get clear about their strengths, interests and goals. They will create a plan of action, practice new habits, learn from setbacks and successes and develop a growth mindset. They will move confidently into their adult lives with habits and strategies to support their success!
Yvette Morton Ed.S, MA, NBC-HWC