My graduating high school class was under one hundred students. It was a wonderful public school in a small town that was perfectly situated as a springboard for any direction a graduate wanted to go with their adult life, and resources to help us make the very personal, customized decision as to where that might be. The public at large eventually found out my and my classmates’ college choices either during our graduation ceremony, or once they saw it printed in the back of our yearbook. Oh, how I wish we could go back to that.
From sophomore to senior year, it was overwhelming to slog through the process of deciding what we wanted to do with our lives and how to get there all while managing everything else around us. Our brains still weren’t done developing, so we felt everything—excitement, worry, hope, fear, wonder, pressure—and responded in good ways and bad. We only had the pressure and feedback of immediate family, actual friends, peers, and our guidance counselors to deal with, which was PLENTY ENOUGH, thank you very much. These days high schoolers have this very personal decision process watched, influenced by, and commented on by loads of social media “Friends” on top of what we had to deal with. YUCK.
Having your parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, siblings, peers, and their combined tens of thousands of social media connections watch, witness, and give unsolicited opinions of it all can absolutely add unfair influence to the choice. Kids may be less likely to do what’s right for them, and more of what will make look good online—or what their parents hope to be able to publicly brag about. Rather than stay in their own heads and homes, truly focused on what’s right for them, the outside is barging in from all directions, and is difficult to ignore.
I’ve seen parents get caught up in trying to look perfect on social media, believing the hype of a well-framed post about what their kids are doing in grade school, yelling at their kids to smile so as to take a photo to make it look like each time they leave their house as a family unit it’s a Kodak Moment. The humblebrags, the FOMO, the InstaFamily #blessed posts—it’s exhausting to watch, never mind be the child that those parents keep posting about.
I can imagine how this kind of posting would bubble up as it leads to what many parents believe to be the penultimate moment of their parenting: where their kid goes upon graduation. The thing is, what parents of a certain age are used to thinking would look best for bragging—usually a traditional four-year college or university acceptance—might not be what’s best for the kid. Or what they want. Or what they can afford (tip: teens these days often know how horrible student debt can be, and are very much not interested in taking that on).
There are so many directions a high school graduate could go, and factors behind the choice. What should be the focus for all is the right choice for the student. Sure, maybe it’s college. Or not. Maybe it’s trade school. Or maybe it’s a gap year during which they work on their art to create enough paintings or sculptures for an exhibit, write their novel, travel the country to perfect their photography to build a portfolio. Or maybe it’s community college. Or maybe it’s continuing their education through one online class at a time while they work to save money to afford the school they really want to go to. Or maybe it’s an apprenticeship or internship to test-drive the career path they think is right for them, before financially investing in it. Or maybe it’s something else entirely.
Adults have a lot of feelings about what high schoolers decide to do with their lives. Many grandparents did not get the education they wished for, so they find anything but going to college an insult to their hard work to put their family in the position to make college even possible for future generations. Many parents are so happy with what they experienced during their college years, that they want the same for their offspring. Lots of other people just can’t mind their own darn business. Kids don’t want to let everyone down, and the fact is that they absolutely will. There’s no way to make a big life choice and not disappoint people who wanted something different for you, whether or not your wants/needs were entered into that equation.
But it’s not about those people, is it?
(NOPE. It really isn’t.)
Personally, I think it’d be a great idea for parents to make a commitment to their kids to not publicize the decision process for what to do after graduating. This practice of restraint could start freshman year—when the question about direction really starts up—and carry on through until they’re done with school. I know all those “which college best fits your kid” quizzes and “what is your senior up to” internet challenges are fun, but it’s simply not anyone else’s business, so why not just not put any of it out there? It takes at least some of the pressure off the student’s plate, keeps only those who genuinely know the student in the know, and allows for the students to really think about what THEY want for their future: not what the public at large thinks is best for them. And isn’t that what’s most important in the end?
I’m grateful that I didn’t have such a big audience watching me decide what to do with my life, giving opinions, or commenting on the final outcome. Let’s raise our teens with less outside pressure as they decide what to do with the rest of their lives, and keep our celebrations over what they decide to do after graduating high school limited to the small circle of people who really know and care about them. It’s their life, not our bragging rights.