It is a temptation to try to relive our youth through our teenagers, so we need to stand back and ask ourselves, “Whose life is it?” It is unfair to make our teenagers the vehicle for our own frustrated ambitions. We all know examples of parents who try to push their children into fields they themselves would have liked to have chosen, or that they never managed to enter: the failed singer or actress who wants her youngster to become a star; the would-be scientist or doctor who opposes his son or daughter’s desire for a journalistic career. As our teenager approaches the difficult decision about what to do with his future, we need to examine his or her potential and talents carefully and realistically. If your son or daughter is not college material, don’t worry. He or she may be much happier and more successful in another, less academic field. Nagging or overambitious parents can be a torment to an adolescent who feels that he must try to please them. This is an unfair, added pressure to a teenager’s already over pressured life.
Adolescents in their mid to late teens are in a most difficult position. At a time when they may still feel uncertain about their lives, and very unsure of themselves, they are called upon to make fundamental decisions and plans for the future. It is at this stage that they must try to pass examinations in order to achieve high school diplomas, work for high grades if they wish to go to college, contemplate the taking of scholastic aptitude tests. They must choose whether or not to go on to some form of higher education in the liberal arts, or take more specialized training. Boys and girls have to think of directing their energies toward a specific career that they will want to pursue.
Sometimes the pressures on these grownup children seem almost unbearable. This is a problem familiar to many parents. For, quite apart from any feeling that his parents are anxious for him to do well, a teenager may set too high standards for himself. His school may lay great stress on the importance of going to college and pressures for high grades and college entrance come from peers, too. If we tell our teenager to “stop worrying,” or “just do the best you can,” he may feel that we don’t understand what he is going through. Better to let him know that we recognize the strain he is undergoing, and sympathize with his anxieties.
While acknowledging his feelings, however, we should emphasize that whether or not he gets into the college of his choice, or another college, or doesn’t go to college at all, it is all right with us. Sheer numbers mean that many youngsters will not get into their first choice of college, no matter how intelligent they are, or how hard they try. In fact, as some child psychiatrists have pointed out, many students feel let down and disappointed when they finally do reach college, simply because they had such un-realistically high expectations of what they would find there as part of college life.
We can point out to our youngster that it is what he learns that matters, not where he learns it. Whether a teenager goes to college or not, the important thing is what he himself makes of his own life, how he develops his particular talents and interests, and the kind of human being he is. We don’t stop learning when we leave school or college. In fact, as many a college graduate has remarked, a person’s real education may only begin after university, when he faces the problem of finding his place in the world as a truly independent and responsible adult.