Preparing for Graduation: 3 Critical Mistakes Parents and Teens Make

Here we are, a few weeks away from going back to school and starting over fresh in a new school year, and many students have not even given their future a thought. Perhaps they are caught up in the wonder of television, the excitement of video games or the busyness of the work world. Do you wonder why teens today do not think too far ahead and never anticipate what they need to do to prepare for graduation? Do you ever wonder why some kids never achieve even a small step towards graduation or a successful career? Blame it on pure dreaming and lack of setting goals for achieving their dreams. Many teens lack a sense of personal responsibility and ownership in the future. Parents can help change this trend.

Kids must learn to plan and set goals for their future. Many times, parents overlook this critical component of parenting. Parents must take time to help their children visualize what life will be like in the future. The discussion should be about more than, "What do you want to do when you grow up?" This conversation should be in depth, long range, and cover topics such as career goals, schooling, how to qualify for this career, how to budget for the lifestyle they wish to have, and where the money will come from when they get there. Many times, this small step is put aside as a "one day" conversation, but it is critical and needs to happen as the children are growing up, so they can learn to see beyond the four walls of home and school.

Students must learn to accept responsibility and take ownership for their own direction. Parents need to guide, coach and train children to think in terms of how to create personal action. Sometimes, parents think they are helping children by stepping up and helping. Sometimes, kids take the easy way out and beg for help when, in reality, they can really do it all on their own if given a little extra support, accountability and encouragement. Parents are afraid that if the child doesn't fill out the job or college application then it won't get done...right, maybe not. The next step would be to help the child feel ownership, want the job or college acceptance and take responsibility to get the task done.

Students must also become proactive in dealing with the life challenges and "not fair" moments that may affect his plans. Many times kids lack the ability to be able to outline possible difficulties that may occur as well as the solutions to these difficulties. If a parent always rushes in to fix and handle the situation, the student is left crippled and unable to take action. If the student is given the skills early and taught to be proactive, then he is not easily scared or defeated when challenges occur because he has already prepared for them. The student then is strong and can think ahead and realize that when the next challenge comes his way, he will have a prepared a solution or strategy ready to attack the challenge.

Graduation can be a reality for any student. Parents can make the journey to graduation a little bit more uncomplicated by equipping their kids with these three tools. It's not about telling them what to do; it's about empowering them and letting the student take ownership. Those who learn early to take ownership of the future, set goals and be proactive will be able to clearly set a direction and their target achievements in life, marking where they should begin, where to pause, where to delve a bit, and where and when to stop. By being able to consciously make confident and empowered decisions, success is guaranteed.

Parents and students can easily learn how to set goals, take ownership and be proactive by following these simple guidelines.

Spend some time at least once a week thinking and dreaming of the big picture. Play "what if" games with the child. Help them catch a glimpse of life through an adult's eyes by thinking of real-life money problems or real-life job dilemmas. You will be amazed at how quickly the child responds and starts learning about what it takes to solve life's puzzles.

Ask a lot of questions. Try not to lecture or feed the information to them and put ideas in their head. Yes, adults have lived it, they have the answers. However, it's a known fact that most people learn more by figuring it out on their own. Let them ponder the ideas and questions and come up with the answers - whether right or wrong. Use these as learning opportunities. Keep asking questions to make them think.

Acknowledge and admire the child. If the answer is wrong, encourage and motivate by responding about how well he is thinking through the process. Consider his point of view and commend him on it. If the child always feels he is in the "wrong" or in "instructive" mode, he will tend to shut down. It might be okay in this instance that the answer is not perfectly solved at this moment. Be patient, it's about helping them take ownership and gain confidence in his own thinking.

As we head back into the school year, we can all work to help our kids think a little more about what is required to graduate. We can urge kids to be more proactive in thinking NOW about graduation so they can achieve even a small step towards graduation or a successful career. Perhaps the kids will find a healthy balance between pure dreaming and setting healthy goals for making it to graduation and beyond. Keep in mind that students are more productive and successful in preparing for graduation if parents have fostered a proactive, self-accountable and goal-setting atmosphere. It takes a positive outlook and self-discipline on both parts to follow through to guarantee success. Be sure to be reasonable and be careful of becoming too ambitious in setting up goals as sometimes an unrealistic and difficult path will cause a child to shut down and become discouraged and unmotivated.