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Unmotivated High-School Senior

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: How do you get your teenager motivated? Our son is 18, and has no desire to get a job and has no idea what he's going to do after he graduates this year. What are his options if he is not interested in the military or going to college? What kind of occupation would be good for him?

A: There is no reason for you or your 18-year-old son to panic because he does not want to go to college or get a job. Many teenagers in his position are not ready to make a commitment to further schooling and have no clue what job or career they'd like to explore.

I think that the first step for you and your son is to discuss what he's truly interested in, what he knows he's good at and what is important to him. Exploring what his interests are and what he likes to do will lead to a discussion of what jobs or careers are a good fit for those interests. Are there specific classes he excelled in? Are there hobbies that he's very involved in? Even things like enjoying cooking or repairing electronic equipment can give clues as to possible careers or jobs that he would enjoy. He can apprentice himself to someone whose job and field of work interests him. He can explore internships, paid and unpaid, in corporations. He should definitely go to his guidance office and use the books and resources they have to help him identify non-college courses of action. The guidance office should also be able to recommend good "career inventory tests" which they can administer. There are also professional vocational and career counselors who could work one-on-one with him. Ask his guidance counselors to help you find one of these counselors who would be a good fit for him.

But What if I Don't Want to Go to College, by Harlow Unger is a fine book that details hundreds of career opportunities obtained through vocational education or other alternative, non-college training. Your son does not need to feel like a "loser" because he is not going to college at this time of his life. However, he does need to realize that he can't graduate high school and expect to lounge around the house indefinitely. Rather than focusing on what he's not going to be doing after high school (especially since this is the time when kids are applying for college), he needs to have his desires respected and his energies directed toward what he's going to try out after high school. He may not be considering college because he's tired of going to school or because he thinks he would not succeed in college. It would be helpful if he could talk with someone he respected about the real reasons why he's confused and/or uncertain about "life after high school."

He needs something to look forward to and to get excited about after he graduates. Between now and when he graduates, I hope that you can encourage him and assist him in following through on some of my suggestions.

More on: Expert Advice

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


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