“I wish I’d been taught that before graduating high school.”

That phrase has been a part of my vocabulary on more occasions than I would prefer since entering my “adult” years. We are big supporters and advocates for our public schools, but it is no secret that our schools are faced with a plethora of challenges and lack of resources. Given these shortcomings, we know, realistically, that our schools and teachers simply can’t bear the entire weight of equipping teens for life after high school.

Whether you are a parent of a teenager or an adult who is mentoring teens and cares about their future, you know that it takes a village to prepare teens for adulthood.

Of course, everyone’s life would be easier if there were just a manual for success or a checklist of skills to acquire and accomplishments to achieve.

I don’t have the universal manual for life, but I can offer a few tips based on my own experience.

Here are 10 things to know before graduating

(So that your teen (and you) may ask the question “why didn’t I learn this in high school?” less often than most of us probably have.)

1. Start building a strong network of friends, mentors, and professional connections.

Having a strong network will benefit your teen not only professionally but socially and often financially. Encourage them to take advantage of events on their college campus or within their community that provide opportunities to connect with new people.

2. Stay curious and never stop learning

Never stop learning. Whether it’s through formal education, online courses, or self-directed study, make a commitment to lifelong learning and personal growth. 

3. Prioritize taking care of your mental and physical health.

Entering into a new life phase can have a significant impact on our mental health. Encourage your teen to implement practices such as self-care, seeking support when needed, processing their feelings through writing or therapy, and maintaining their physical health as they take on the new pressures of college or the workforce.

4. It is never too early to start learning about financial literacy.

One of the biggest things I wish I had been more equipped for before graduating high school was how to manage my finances.

I often excused my lack of knowledge during my college years because I was focused on my studies. However, a few practical financial lessons could have saved me a lot of stress if I had learned them a lot earlier. Encourage your teen to take advantage of financial literacy or money management courses, reminding them that they are certainly not alone in feeling like they are not knowledgeable in this area.

5. Whatever their next chapter looks like, encourage your teen to sit down and set some intentional goals for themselves.

The next few years will be pivotal for them and having a sense of direction and purpose will be of the utmost importance in setting them up for long-term success.

6. Step out of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to try new things.

Whether joining a new club or interest group on campus, finding involvement within a church or spiritual community, or attending a community event, encourage your teen to lean into the unknown and try new things.

7. Sleep and hydration are actually THAT important.

Yes, your teen will continue to scoff at you for possibly a few more years when you remind them that everything will probably be ok if they just get more sleep, drink more water, or eat a little better, but keep at it. I wish I had listened to my mom a lot sooner on this one! 

8. Seek out a mentor.

Whether it is for professional purposes, personal, social, or spiritual, seeking someone out to speak into your life and offer their personal experiences as a guide will be extremely beneficial for your teen as they enter the next chapter. Post-high school can often be a confusing time, full of so much newness and new big decisions to be made.

As your teen enters into this newfound independence, your guidance will still be so greatly needed, but having a variety of other trustworthy voices speaking into their life is a huge benefit for them. 

9. Find a hobby.

The traditional high school setting often provides the structure and opportunities to help teens explore hobbies and interests, but once they walk across the stage and enter into the next phase, it takes much more intentionality and effort to seek out these opportunities.

Encourage them to either find something new they are interested in or continue with the hobby or activity that they were already participating in before graduating. Having a hobby can be an important way to destress and also introduce your teen to a community that shares a common interest.

10. Have fun!

This may sound so simple and might be terrifying to encourage your soon-to-be-leaving-the-nest teenager, but if you can remind your teen that fun is a critical part of life and that there has to be a healthy balance of work and play, they will likely develop a much healthier relationship with these things earlier on. 

If your teen is anything like me, it may take them years after graduating high school for some of the lightbulbs to go off and for them to realize the importance of all of the advice and wisdom you are pouring into them now.

Continue showing up for your teen and having the tough conversations with them and providing guidance.

And as impossible as it may seem, continue to loosen your group and allow them to soar- remembering that “Letting go does not mean not caring about things. It means caring about them in a flexible and wise way.-Jack Kornfield

Lara Kunkel

Lara Kunkel

Volunteer Coordinator

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