Better Lines of Communication with Students: Parental Involvement and Future Planning
What would you do to increase your child’s chances of making smart choices about life after high school? We’re sharing tips on building better lines of communication.
What if there was one powerful thing you could do to help your child succeed in a post-secondary world? It’s 100% free and it may be something you’re doing already: Talking with your kid about their plans for the future.
A US Department of Education longitudinal study of school and student characteristics and college-going behaviors found that a parent’s support can make all the difference when it comes to teens being prepared and excited for their post-secondary future.
“Students who received support from a parent to develop an ECP [education and/or career plan] in grade 9 were more likely than students who did not receive such support to complete a college preparatory curriculum, enroll in college, and enroll in a bachelor’s degree program,” wrote the study’s authors Torre Gibney and Mary Rauner.
They also found that students who received crucial support from a teacher or parent to develop an ECP plan and review it at least once a year were significantly more likely to demonstrate college-going behaviors.
How to Build Lines of Communication to Help Your Child Prepare for College and Career
It can be challenging to “reach” your kids once they get to a certain age. (We’re looking at you, 13 and above.) But cracking the communication code of a teenager is critical for helping to instill the self-worth, self-knowledge, and autonomy that success as an adult requires.
Families play a pivotal role in the way kids approach their future beyond high school. It may not appear this way a lot of the time, but teens look to their parents and guardians as role models and seek their approval. We’ve put together some strategies that may help you use your power wisely.
Communication: Laying the Groundwork
Let’s start with three basic concepts that will inform all of your college and career communication.
Choose the right Time to Talk
It’s important to remember that our kids have busy internal lives, too. What may work for us may not work for them. For many, there are specific times that are especially fraught for them. Some may need to unwind and recharge right after school instead of getting into a heavy discussion with mom or dad. Mornings might be ok for one kid, but another might need a few hours to feel alert. And while a teen buried in their phone may look free, they may actually be in a heated discussion with a friend or deep in thought about a choice they need to make.
To avoid rolled eyes and big sighs, ask your kids when a good time would be to talk. If you think they might be reluctant or uncomfortable, suggest a drive or a walk so you’re not looking directly at each other.
Listen More Than You Talk
If you want to improve communication with your kids, you may need to bite your tongue from time to time. In their seminal parenting book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Talk, authors Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish advise parents to acknowledge what kids are saying rather than reacting or trying to “fix” a problem.
They recommend listening with your full attention (not with one eye on your phone or another task) and recognizing their feelings with a word or sound, such as “Oh…”, “Mmm…”, or “I see”. If you delay reacting, your kids are more likely to continue talking and potentially find more perspective or insight to what they’re experiencing. They might even solve their own problems!
Don’t Expect to Resolve an Issue in One Conversation
Whether it’s their not-great marks in math, their messy bedroom, or a bad attitude, most teen problems are not solved in one interaction. It can be helpful to break down each concern into small pieces and address them over time instead of at once.
Your first interaction may simply bring the issue to their attention when you’re not feeling upset about it. Practice ‘listening more than you talk’ to find out their perspective. Resist giving direction or advice. In the weeks to come, revisit the issue at times when you’re both relaxed. Over several conversations, you may brainstorm possible solutions (or consequences for unacceptable behavior) together. Table the talk when things get heated so you’re always discussing it with a clear head.
Keeping Future Readiness in Mind
When you employ those three basic communication concepts, your teens will be more likely to be open and listen when it’s time to talk about their future. Here are a few ways to provide that critical parental support.
Talk About Your Own Career Regularly
For many parents, their job is a big part of their life. Whether you love it or hate it, it’s helpful to share your experiences with your kids. How did you get the job you have today? What was the pathway that got you there? Do you ever wish you made different choices? What are some of the challenges and rewards you face on the job? How do you continue to learn and build skills?
Try to paint an honest and helpful picture without going into too much boring (by teens’ standards!) detail. Short stories are better than a monologue at dinner every night.
Review Their Future Readiness Portfolio Together
If they have access to a future readiness tool like Xello, ask if they can give you a tour of their portfolio. Acknowledge and ask questions about their interests, skills, and strengths and the related careers. Try to avoid sharing your opinions about their career matches and the post-secondary pathways they’re interested in—at least at first.
Focus on entering their world and looking around as an impartial observer. As you review their choices from time to time together, you can start to share any knowledge or experiences you have.
Encourage Them to Think About the Big Picture
Some kids have very specific dreams, such as being a painter, a doctor, or a teacher. While this is helpful for their future planning, it can also be limiting. As you discuss their interests and ambitions, ask them to explore the bigger career sector with you. There are lots of jobs in art, medicine, and education.
Help them consider their passion and all of the ways they can apply that rather than try to fit it into a narrow box from the outset. If they remain resolute about their choice after you “think big”, resolve to respect their focus.
Connect Them with People in Your Life Who Can Help
It can be incredibly helpful to learn about specific fields of study and careers from the people who are in them. As a parent, you can help connect your kids with professionals who can offer them special insight. As you become aware of their college and career interests, consider who in your circle would be a good resource for your child.
Once you’ve identified someone, ask your teen if they would be interested in talking with them. Depending on their personality, they may be open to asking questions on the phone or video chat, by email, or even visiting their workplace. If they’re not interested at first, avoid forcing the issue. If their interest persists, they may be more amenable at a later date.
Being there for your child as they consider their future is one of the gifts of parenthood. Building better lines of communication long before they have to start making serious decisions will help you have positive, productive conversations.
Who knows what kind of amazing future you’re helping your child imagine?