As parents we feel pressure to “get it right” when it comes to our kids’ success in school, and beyond. And while the biggest challenge in kindergarten may have been around selecting birthday treats, once they hit high school, the pressure to help them perform can feel overwhelming.

Add to that the fact that relatives, friends, teachers and siblings are quick to offer their opinions and it can feel like the weight of the world on your shoulders. We can even see the necessity of these issues when we study the category Commitment to Learning of the 40 Developmental Assets. 5 of the 40 Assets have to do with the importance of learning: Achievement Motivation, School Engagement, Homework, Bonding to School and Reading for Pleasure. This all-too-familiar focus on the desire to help our kids succeed academically can – at times – feel overwhelming.

If you can relate, please consider these perspectives from a parent who also happens to be a licensed counselor with experience working with middle school, high school and college students.

There’s no single formula for success

As you know, parenting is not a one-size-fits-all experience. Even within the same family, kids tend to take very different paths.

In high school, an age where young people tend to live in the here-and-now, encourage your kids to see this time as a path to a fulfilling adult life. Help them to envision their future selves and explore the different options available to them. 

Help kids pursue a passion

The kids who do best in high school are those who identify and develop an area of personal interest. And let’s not forget the importance of “Constructive Use of Time.” Kids may excel and find worth in other activities that aren’t often considered scholastic in nature: Creative Activities, Youth Programs, Religious Community and Time at Home (Assets 17-20). Although some kids seem to excel at everything, it’s rare and it’s an unrealistic expectation. It’s great if kids want the challenge themselves by exploring new interests, but the expectation shouldn’t be excellence across the board. Help kids look for an area of strength and celebrate that.

The things that make kids “fit in” soon fade

Soon after high school graduation, young people find many of the activities they poured themselves into for the sake of fitting in soon fade away. Encourage them to pursue their true passions while in high school, rather than those things they believe will make them popular among their peer groups.

College or no college?

The previous generation emphasized college or university as the preferred option for every young adult. That’s no longer the case. With the rising costs associated with college, it’s an enormous investment. And with a decrease in the number of jobs requiring a four-year degree, that degree does not automatically guarantee long-term financial success when you compare it with a career in a skilled trade. Some other things you may want to consider: 

Many kids aren’t ready for college right after high school

It’s usually pretty easy to gauge whether kids are ready to pursue college. Either they’ll be excited about it or not, evidenced by them investigating colleges on their own. 

Typically kids who’ve thrived in high school are those that enjoyed learning, overall. That group will likely choose the college route.

Those who’ve struggled with school, academically or socially, may not be ready for more education just yet. Forcing college on them tends to be a miserable experience for both kids and parents.

Years ago, if kids didn’t go directly from high school to college or trade school, it was likely they would never go. All that has changed in the last couple of decades. People now begin higher education at different points in their lives, even into their 60s and 70s.

There are really only two reasons for young people to go to college:

  1. Their chosen career paths require a college degree
  2. They love learning and want the full college experience—academics, campus life, peer interaction, etc.

If kids aren’t ready to transition directly from high school to university, a community college is a great place to check general coursework requirements off the list and experience some success. And, it’s an economical way to do it.

Kids don’t have to go to college or university to thrive

Training and a career in the skilled trades is a perfect fit for many young people. Jobs are plentiful. Wages are good. And they can make a nice living. Some other reasons to consider this option:

  • Professions in the skilled trades are plentiful
  • Schooling is shorter and less expensive than a college degree
  • Graduates can start earning more quickly than those who choose the college route

A successful college experience begins in high school

As a parent, your vision of campus life is likely very different from that of your kids. If you see your kids are college bound, you can start setting the stage for a successful freshman experience ahead of time. Talk with college faculty and student life staff members for specific direction on how to do so.

Is it the right time to marry?

Just a couple generations ago, it was standard practice to marry and start a family soon after high school. While it’s not the most popular route nowadays, it’s a viable option for many. The difference  is that today’s young marrieds often go on to get a formal education.

See your role as a mentor

Once your kids hit the latter half of their teens, your parenting role changes and it’s helpful to see yourself as a mentor. This is a time to help your emerging adults flex their decision-making muscles. Offer opinions and help them weigh the pros and cons. Allow your kids to make smaller mistakes and learn from them but redirect if the consequences are too high.

Direct your conversations with your teens to help equip them and empower them to create a great transition period from home to the world. The variety of options today are as wide as the variety of teens. So, put aside your perfect plan for their lives and steer them down a path that fits their unique personalities, passions and skills.