If ever there were a universal trigger for teen stress and parent-teen strife in today’s society, it’s the prospect of college admissions. The mass-media model of hyperperfection, the lack of clear direction around defining and executing passions, the indeterminacy coupled with the high expectations of the college admissions process: all of this has become overwhelmingly emotionally taxing for most teens. As a consequence, teenhood feels more like a gauntlet than a time of discovery, growth, love, and fun.
To top it all off, teens often face adult exasperation about their poor time-management skills, lack of direction, goals, etc. Teens know they lack these skills. Parents and teachers are aware as well.
The problem? There seems to be no realization that teens need to be taught these things, that they can be taught these things, and that someone needs to teach them. My diagnosis: teens are not taught in a formal way the soft skills they need to become developmentally ready for college. The skills I’ve located in my practice are:
- Decision-making: Including time-management, ethical dilemmas, and choosing among options (non-stress and stress situations).
- Prioritizing: The key to decision-making is prioritizing, but teens do not know this; it’s why they’re often frozen when it comes to tough choices. Teens don’t necessarily know how to engage in the deliberation process that results in determining priorities, or don’t know that this exists and need to be taught.
- Defining interests: With the societal mandate to get a job that pays well, teens can censor themselves and don’t realize that a career comes much later after they’ve defined who they are and what they want. Students do not have a guide for an independent audit of possible areas of exploration.
- Activating interests: Teens are not given any guidance on how to reach beyond their personal comfort zone and find best-fit and/or unique extracurricular activities.
- Researching opportunities: Teens don’t know how to research internships, volunteer opportunities, independent projects, summer programs, or colleges.
- Project management: This skill is one of the most difficult for teens as it involves more advanced executive functions, yet is so important for the contemporary college applicant (working collaboratively is a connected skill).
- Communicating pre-professionally (written and verbal) with adults: Teens have no clue, which is a real roadblock in securing employment, internships, and/or volunteering opportunities.
- Writing mini-memoir style personal statements: This is so fear-inducing for teens. Why are they asked to do something so high stakes that they have not been taught to do and is developmentally mismatched for them? Yet they can be taught to do this.
- Remaining calm when facing stress: A modern-day soft skill on par will others at this point; must be taught, and can be taught!
Because no societal institution — neither secondary education, nor the family, nor religious institutions — offer systematic training for high school students to become acquainted with these skills, practice them, stumble along the way, and hone them in the process, the prospect of college, instead of serving as an inspiring motivator, has become a demoralizing experience. The only vendors I can detect possibly offering this kind of educational personal-growth training are CBOs serving select underprivileged students, many of them first-generation applicants, and private college counselors who mostly cater to affluent families to sustain their livelihoods.
As a result, most American teens lack virtually all the resources they need to develop themselves uniquely and independently. Yet that is exactly what they need to become successful adults. College readiness haunts teens who feel rudderless in tumultuous waters with no clear anchors. They feel unequipped and unprepared for the coming challenge, they are right, and they know they are right. This extreme level of indeterminacy combined with a perceived sense of neglect by those around them, from my observational standpoint, contributes to high (even crippling) levels of anxiety in teens.How can we help teens avoid this unnecessary stress and coach them in these vital life skills? Well, first, let’s find out what teens themselves say they need to prepare for college with confidence and calm. Find out about our market research in the next blog post.