Long before I ever walked into a classroom as a teacher, I was working with young people trying to help them make good decisions about life after high school. Whenever I am fortunate enough to engage young people in conversation, invariably I always come around to the same question – “So, what are your plans after high school?”
I could probably fill an encyclopedia (high five 3 people if you know what that is) with all of the lame, half-baked, ill-conceived, hair-brained plots, plans and schemes that I have heard in response to such a simple question. I dare say that our young people haven’t thought about life after high school. Quite the contrary, I believe it’s all they think about, especially for a good number of our high school juniors and seniors. However, to have simply thought about a thing is not a plan; to have discussed a thing is not a plan.
Real plans have goals and timelines. They are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely (SMART). Real plans force you to answer questions like, “Where?”, “When?”, “Who?”, “What if?” and “Why”. Real plans may start out as a simple thought before they become a discussion. The discussion is what helps us to decide whether we are truly committed or barely interested.
I will admit, at age 16 or 17 it is a little intimidating to say, “This is what I plan to do with my life.” To overcome this intimidation, young people need guidance and assistance. They need help framing their choices and understanding the paths represented by each option. Young people need constant support and encouragement – despite their age, size or constant demands for “space” and responsibility.
Once upon a time, young people received support (and discipline and correction and love) from multiple sources outside of school. The church, community, school and family all came together to form a four-legged stool that supported young people. If one of those legs were weak or absent, the remaining three legs could provide more than adequate support. Flash forward to our present day and we now find ourselves in a world where, for a surprisingly large number of students, the only encouraging words they receive come from a teacher or staff member at school.
In essence, these young people are balancing their whole life on a one-legged stool. Single parents working two or three jobs to make ends meet, grandparents snatched back into the world of raising young children, family illnesses that demand the time and energy of the whole family, loss of a loved one – regardless of the reason or situation, many young people are trying to find their own way. In these days, encouragement can be a whole lot more than empty words.
While teachers and school officials try to figure out how to be all four legs of the new stool, students are stuck in a delicate balancing act. Life beyond today is scary for all ages – what’s next, what will happen if …, where will I be in 5 years – all weighty questions that can add stress and make the balancing act more precarious. If there are young people in your world or you find yourself fortunate enough to be part of a young person’s support system, encourage, support, correct, listen but above all else, love them! (Expect more, give more, get more!) Be Young! Have Fun!