How to Help Your Teen Find His Bliss

Jan Faull, MEd, on how parents can help teens get excited about -- and take charge of -- their futures.

Q. My teenage son seems to be completely unmotivated and uninterested in his future. What can I do?

A. Teens go through a period of redefinition. They leave their childhood self behind and individuate, which is nothing more than developing a new young adult identity separate from their parents. Your teen may very well be developing a plan for his future, but he may just not be sharing it with you. It may be a tough time for you, but even tougher for him.

Steps for Parents

Back him up. The most you can do right now is exude confidence that your son has everything he needs to succeed in life, if not in school, and that you believe in him. Right now he's in a crisis period, or possibly a period of rest where he's waiting to figure out a direction, a plan, or a place to focus on for his future.

You can also communicate to him that you will support him with any positive avenue he pursues. If he makes a stab at a plan, don't criticize, judge, or evaluate it. He's doing enough of that himself. He just needs you to show interest.

Encourage passions. Every child has an affinity for something. If a child can pursue that affinity, he'll be eager to seek it out. Consider these kids:

  • One child loved sports, basketball in particular, but wasn't tall enough to play beyond junior high school. After many attempts at different career courses, he ended up being a sports editor at a major newspaper.
  • A girl with a flair for organizing parties and high school events found her niche in event organization at a convention center.
  • Another young man who as a child loved ancient ruins now studies archeology.

Just listen. Whatever you do, don't bug your child with questions about his future. He's young and still in high school. Many kids take a variety of routes before settling into a career plan. He may start at one place and end up at a far different one.

One young man tried his hand at comedy with some success. He actually performed at a few clubs in New York City on amateur nights. His routine was well received. Despite his affinity and talent for comedy, his parents told him that such a career would not be acceptable. His parents saw him as a diplomat, not as a comedian. He ended up flunking out of college and moving far away, out of communication with his parents. They do not know where he is or what he's doing today. This is situation you don't want to repeat.

The fact that your son is in a moratorium right now doesn't mean he'll always be there, unless he's depressed or has determined that what he'd really love doing is not worthy. If he's willing, encourage him to seek career counseling. He only needs an acceptable place to land after high school. He does not need his future perfectly mapped out.

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