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Adult Children Parenting Raising Healthy Kids Teens and Tweens

Don’t Expect Your Kids to Have all the Answers at 18

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

Do you have all the answers? If you don’t, why should your kids?

The career I chose at 18 is not anything close to the career and business I have built today. But I grew up with a dad who got a job when he was 18 and stayed in the same industry his whole life until he retired. He was with the same company my entire life, so I tried to do the same. A dozen jobs later, I finally realized there was no corporate fit for me, especially not with all the atrocious (read: misogynist) bosses out there.

So why should I expect my own kids to choose a path at 18 years old? Between 18 and now, my path has changed a more times than I can count, and I would have never predicted that I would be where I am today (in motherhood, in my career, in my location, in my future goals). But it’s easy to forget that as our children graduate high school and are expected to launch their own lives.

The second our children step foot into middle school, the interest inventories begin. When Kira first took these tests, she wanted to be a professional cheerleader. Parker wanted to be a musician, then a filmmaker. Anika wanted to be a dancer, then an actress. Those career choices don’t fit neatly into the school counselor’s box. My interests happen to include painting, something I didn’t even take up until I was 40.

Your personality and interests are then cross-matched with your career testing, which measures your skills. The test results tell you a list of fields you should consider, all of which require college for at least 4 years. The school counselors certainly aren’t going to encourage a non-traditional path like “move to Hollywood and try to break into the movie industry, or move to New York City and work as a waitress while you try out for plays.” But by the time you’re in your junior year of high school, you’re expected to know what your life plans are. You took all the tests, so it should be easy, right?

When has standardized testing ever offered a reliable answer?

Our children’s brains haven’t even finishing developing by the time they’ve graduated from high school. Most young adults are well into their college degrees by the time the frontal lobe has fully matured, and at that point, decisions have been made that make many kids feel obligated to keep going in the direction they started – and with loans that keep them bound to work to keep paying loans. These students feel locked into careers and choices that they made because they were forced to have all the answers when they were just kids who really just needed more recess time. Turning 18 somehow is supposed to mean that you know what you want to do with the rest of your life.

Whatever.

Having all the answers is an unrealistic expectation that places unnecessary pressure on our kids. What do you want to do with your life? What is your next step? At age 18, why is “I don’t know” such a horrible answer? I wish I had had the guts to say that when I was 18, because I truly didn’t know.

I’m not saying you should let your kids graduate from high school and then sit at home playing video games all day long. Your kids should still be designing their own lives and learning to care for themselves, but rushing off to college and loans and debt may not be the answer. Let them get a job, an internship, or take some free online courses to help them define what they want to do. Let them spend a year backpacking across Europe. As long as they are doing something to help them learn about who they are, they’re doing the right thing.

The biggest mistake a parent can make is to expect their kids to have all the answers at age 18. Your kid may legally be considered an adult, but they still need you for guidance.

I don’t have all the answers as an adult, so no, I don’t expect my 18 year old to know everything either.