Heart to Heart: When your graduate has “zero” direction


Dear Adele,

My son is in grade 11 and has zero idea about what he wants to do after high school. I am having a mild panic attack trying to help him choose his courses for grade 12. Everyone else’s boy or girl seems to have it all laid out except mine. He has zero passions it seems. I’m freaking out because I don’t want him living in our basement playing video games for the rest of his life. Any ideas?

Visionless Mom with a Visionless Kid


Dear Visionless Mom with a Visionless Kid,

I am here with a pair of bifocals for you. They might make things crystal-clear for you. Then again what will become crystal-clear might not be exactly what you want to see. However, it is the picture that most parents of adolescents see, despite the fact you think you and your child are the only ones getting such a blurred and distorted image on your screen.

Adolescents do a lot of growing between age 12 and 18, which is obvious on the outside as their bodies develop from children into full grown adults. Their brains however and their emotional development don’t usually keep pace with the development of their physical bodies. Brain development is thought to mature around age 25 and the improvement of emotional intelligence can go on for a lifetime. Self-discovery starts in one’s teenage years, carries on into one’s 20s, 30s, 40s and for most of us, probably continues forever. There are lots of changes in people and in their thinking, as they move through the decades. The journey through life is not a straight highway but rather a meandering road with many curves, unexpected detours, hills and valleys, bumpy roads and paths taking various routes through the journey through the forest to our final destination.

In our present Canadian culture, children are being born into smaller families that have greater resources than their parents had available to them. As a result, children have a lot more options in life and a lot more choices. They have support for a longer time, and do not need to be independent in financing themselves and young families, at ages common to previous generations. As well, there are all kinds of acceptable choices for high school graduates which are valuable in helping these young adults mature and become contributing members of society. Your son’s lack of vision is a sign of the times, and a very common problem for modern parents.

There is no one right path for your son at this time, but rather there are many, which have the potential to help him find one or more passions in life and discover how he can use his talents to serve the world while passing through. You, your son’s father, and your Visionless kid, might want to talk about some of the options which follow.

Your son could choose to remain in high school. With high school being four years in Ontario, our children are graduating often before they reach the age of 18. As well, so many subjects have been added to the Ontario curriculum as possibilities for students, that depth in subjects like science, mathematics, history and geography is often lacking in their formal education, because they have chosen their courses based on breadth rather than depth. He might enjoy taking another year in grade 12 enrolling in subjects for which he just did not have space in his timetable previously. He might also consider retaking subjects in which he doesn’t have excellent grades, so that he can increase his choice of options both in post-secondary programs and in the places of study when he is ready for an apprenticeship, college or university.

Depending on your financial resources, your son could also choose to take a general program at college or university with the intention of discovering where his talents and interests lie. Sometimes a full assessment by a psychologist regarding your son’s abilities and interests can be helpful, in concert with this option, in providing direction for what kind of program might be suitable. Such a choice can assist young people in finding out what they don’t want to do for a career as well as help them determine positive directions. Often students find out a lot about the real nitty-gritty of a field, only once they are actually taking the courses and doing practicums in the field. This option for programs of study, assumes that your son has your financial support or can work part-time to allow him the luxury of being a student without a quick end to formal education in sight.

Another excellent option is commonly referred to as ‘GAP’ year. Your son could go out and get an entry level job in a hot minute, pay room and board at home and come to realize that living a life on minimum wage will not allow him to enjoy the kind of lifestyle he has enjoyed under your financial care. You might also consider letting him try to rent a room or apartment away from your home, and experience life as an independent adult. It is often quite an eye-opener for adolescents who had everything provided for them, and more, that it is pretty tough sledding trying to rent accommodation, pay for food, transportation, insurance, clothing, recreation and save even one penny, when they have the kind of job typically available to a young person with only a high school education. This experience might help your lad narrow down his choices for a career pretty quickly, and dive into something sooner than initially anticipated.

Another idea is to give your high school graduate a year to travel or travel and work concurrently. This can be done in a number of ways. Some you might like better than others.

There is a wonderful program called ‘Up with People’, which will likely cost you about the same as one year away at university, but which for my money would be my very first choice. Teenagers from around the world, travel together in a large cohesive group, with wonderful experienced mentors, who arrange homestays with quality screened families, in cities all over the globe. While there, the young people participate in volunteer work projects helping the poor, the disabled, the vulnerable, and those in need. At the same time, they prepare a phenomenal musical concert sharing values which the world could use more of, such as kindness, inclusion, equity, respect, friendship and helping those in need. Every young person is involved in the concert in some way, which is performed in many countries to sellout crowds. The adolescents make friends from everywhere which last a lifetime. At the end of their time, participants I have spoken to, say it was a life altering experience and changed the trajectory of their journey, completely. The say that they changed or cemented their values, their career directions, and their understanding of the world’s problems. This option, has high potential to really catapult your teenager into maturity and an independent adult life with a vision. 

A variation on this theme, and possibly a less expensive option, would be to suggest your child travel for the year working his way around the world or at least part of it. I have written an article about how this could be possible for a group of students, entitled, “Send them on the cruise! A curriculum idea to better prepare our youth for the Ontario workforce”. 

A further variation on this theme, might be to get three or four families together, with graduating students who are compatible, and send them travelling on last-minute bargain cruises and economy bus tours. Ensure he has volunteer talks lined up when he returns, so he is forced to reflect and internalize what he has learned from the travel experience. This kind of inexpensive travel would allow your son to experience some independence, learn about the world and the challenges in other countries, and probably help him mature several years quite quickly. Such travel is well organized and quite safe. I recently returned from an amazing thirteen-day trip to South Africa for under $2000. Prior to that, I visited Jordan and Israel on a bus tour for about two weeks for under $1500. A two-week cruise to South America visiting six countries, cost around the same amount. A year of travelling interspersed with a month here, and there of working at an entry-level minimum-wage job at home, or in other countries, might be a perfect combination to help your child gain a better understanding of where his talents lie, and how he might serve the world in his career.

Always remember that education is not limited to sitting in classrooms, studying prescribed textbooks and writing tests. A person who is truly educated has a broad range of experiences, a broad range of interests, and a real understanding of people and how the world works. Everything your son does contributes to his overall education, and he does not have to choose a specific course of studies right at this very moment, in order to be successful in life, in a single career or in many careers which he may become involved in. All three of my own children, actually were successful in post-secondary programs at college and university, after the age of 25. None of them really knew what they wanted to do in life for a career as a teenager, and required those extra years to mature and get to know who they were themselves.

It took me a long time to realize that my pushing them to take courses and enrolling them in programs that they themselves did not choose, was a complete waste of money and a 100 per cent waste of everyone’s time and energy. If they are not self-motivated to learn and study, they will not likely do well and may even drop out or fail. When they themselves select the program and are excited about it, they will put in their best effort and be successful. My experience taught me that each individual, when he or she become an adult, must decide for him or herself, what he or she will paint on the canvas of their life. Once the artist decides what he or she wants to create, masterpieces of all kinds are possible.

The only idea you might want to reinforce as parents is that your Visionless kid cannot choose to do nothing while living in your home, with you supporting him. Life for most of us, does not allow anyone a free lunch. And you, as his judicious parent, are most helpful to your adolescent if you teach him that. He is free to study, to work, to study and work, to travel, to travel and work, or to travel, work and study. He is not free to do nothing. Agree on a deadline for his decision, and then help him set the plan in motion.

I hope these ideas have cleaned up the lenses for you Visionless Mom. May they be helpful in starting discussions with your “Zero” direction kid.  Worry not! He will grow up! Provide support, encouragement, and be there for him in troubled times. Otherwise let him mature as nature intended, and when he is ready, I am confident your fledgling baby bird, will soar with the vision of a hawk, towards his destiny.

Sincerely, Adele

I'm looking forward to your questions! Email me at maryadeleblair@gmail.com and please put Heart to Heart in the subject line. Note that all columns will remain anonymous.