A teen’s transition through adolescence to college and career are filled with pressure to achieve and a lot of uncertainty. That’s why academic advisor and career development expert Ana Homayoun says structure and connection are the most important things parents can give teens struggling with uncertainty.
“Provide them with consistent time, structure, and support needed to develop a system, and make sure they feel connected to people, places, and spaces in a way that is meaningful to them,” Homayoun says.
Her new book Erasing the Finish Line: The New Blueprint for Success Beyond Grades and College Admission is about helping students be successful in school and life by shifting focus away from pressure to get the best grades and a perfect mix of extracurriculars toward growth, fulfillment, and engagement.
“By teaching students how to reframe or opt out of draining experiences and to navigate everyday disappointment in effective and meaningful ways, we allow them to create their own blueprints for success and fulfillment,” Homayoun writes.
She says uncertainty takes a toll on teens’ executive functioning and their ability to plan, prioritize, regulate emotions, stay organized, and start or complete tasks. High school is kind of a rotten time for executive functioning to get even harder.
Many things contribute the the uncertainty in a teen’s life, she says, including:
- Disruption related to the COVID pandemic, like changes in school and routines.
- Family situations like health challenges.
- Shifting friend groups and social situations.
- School transitions.
- Questioning their identity.
- Climate-related issues.
- Navigating the college process.
- Rapidly changing technology.
In Erasing the Finish Line, Homayoun suggests the following tips for helping kids cope with uncertainty.
Take stock of what you can control
Table of Contents
If your teen is overwhelmed by all of life’s moving parts right now, try to shift their focus to things they actually have control over.
Start by asking, “Are you doing the best you can with what you’ve got right now?” Hopefully acknowledging what they are doing well with the resources available will ease stress about the rest.
Also, kids may be able to have more self-compassion if they are reminded that forces outside of their control really do impact if and how well they can complete tasks. Empower them to build autonomy around daily routines and habits to emphasize what’s in their control.
Process and address fears and stressors
The general “busyness” of high school can distract kids from dealing with their feelings. They can deal with overwhelm by processing their worries. Help kids identify and address what’s stressing them out with these questions:
- What are you afraid of or what is causing you stress?
- What stories are you creating for yourself about this worry? What are the “what if” scenarios running through your mind?
- Is this a realistic thing to be afraid of? How likely is it to actually happen?
- What is the root cause of this fear or stress?
- What can you control?
- Who can you reach out to for support? What other resources might help?
Homayoun writes that fear is self-protective, and fearlessness is not the goal.
Ask for help early and often
Parenting a kid of any age means helping them find a balance between needing assistance with every little task and feeling confident to try things on their own. Homayoun notes that younger children behave more collaboratively before they reach the teen years when competition is a bigger focus. Remind teens that asking for help is always an option.
“Community building, not rugged individualism, should be our new goal,” she writes.
Help teens recognize their own strengths and know when it’s a good opportunity to tap into someone else’s expertise.
“When we accept that we don’t know everything, we’re more accepting of learning new things, trying new approaches, starting over, and being open to feedback and ideas that may streamline the process that was making us feel stuck,” Homayoun writes.
Establish, create, or redefine routines
Who can even keep up with a teen’s activities? Between school, extracurriculars, and social events, teens’ schedules are constantly evolving with the seasons. Help them feel grounded through the shifting stages of high school by creating routines. Remind them that routines should be flexible to adjust to new schedules. If they are feeling overwhelmed with activities, modifying their daily routine may help them feel more in control.
Become a generalist rather than a specialist
Teens can often get locked into a “passion” and focus all their effort on perfecting that one skill or subject. Homayoun instead suggests encouraging kids to sample activities and broaden their exposure to different interests.
Homayoun offers these final tips to help kids cope with the stress of uncertainty:
- Help them create a clear, streamlined process for organizing, planning, and tracking their workflow with binders, digital files, folders, planners, or calendars. They can use their system for school, activities, college admissions, and job hunting.
- Encourage them to establish regular morning and evening routines with time to relax and reset.
- Promote good sleep habits and hydration.
- Help teens identify multiple trusted adults they can turn to for help.