I often feel like I’m on an “opposing team” when it comes to parents of high schoolers.  All the while they are desperately clinging to their soon-to-be-adult teen, I am pushing the teen out of the nest!   We’ve had nine senior classes at Lawton Academy, and I have made a study of what causes students to successfully “launch” into adult life and what keeps them from launching.

The first factor for success seems to be the presence of a goal.  When I gain a student whose parents brought him to our school to better his chances of reaching that goal, I know success is ahead.  I am very cautious when parents include “protection from the influences in public education” or “more structured environment” as reasons to send their kids here.  Not always, but often those parents are more interested in control than opportunity.

The trick to goal-setting leading to successful launching lies in who’s doing the goal-setting.  If a parent makes available a wide range of opportunities, discusses strengths and the job possibilities for those strengths, and gives the teen a vision of the future (say by visiting college campuses while on a family vacation, for instance), he is going to create a goal-oriented teen.

A second equally-important factor is empowerment.  If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard, “It’s just easier to do it myself.” Who said parenting was supposed to be easy?!  An empowered teen can do his own laundry, order online, and maintain a checking account.  Doing these things while still under parental supervision allows correction while the teen will still listen.  The parent who does everything for the teen, to include constantly rescuing, is crippling the teen and, often, insuring that he will never leave the nest (which, I’m sad to say, has at times actually been the parental goal).

It is the parents’ responsibility to teach their teen how to budget, how to maintain service on a car, how to deal with the financial aid office at his college, how to balance an internship with classes and social clubs.  We may have to listen to some spirited “venting” as they learn the ropes of bureaucracy, but they will have learned them nonetheless.

The next factor I see in successful launchers is confidence.  In a world of teens who feel entitled, I am amazed at how many feel like they don’t have much to offer the world.  I think I’ve narrowed much of the blame to the Internet.  I think they look at teens on the Internet who are doing phenomenal acts at a pre-college age, and they can’t see how they can compete with that.  I have to constantly remind students that these are a handful of teens out of millions.  There’s plenty of room for more phenomenal teens! 

Confidence comes at an early age.  The confident child has a parent who is her champion… her advocate.  Yes, teens make boneheaded moves sometimes, but nothing destroys confidence like the feeling that the teen is always wrong.  Ironically, that teen will launch; she’ll just never come back home once she’s “escaped.”

The final factor necessary for a successful launch is purpose… a reason why.  I make it a point to tell students why they’re doing a particular lesson.  I wanted to know why when I was a teen.  I quit reading books for my own pleasure in eighth grade.  It was my form of protest because my teachers were making me read books for their classes.  I was going to “show them,” and I, in fact, did not pick up another book to read for pleasure until my second year of teaching!  The joke was on me, as God made me a literature teacher!  Do I require that kids read books?  You bet!  But I tell them why.  I tell them of increased vocabulary and expanding experiences and such.  When kids see that the end goal is in their best interest, they tend to work to achieve it. 

Beyond purpose of tasks, an overall purpose for existence is required.  Students of faith tend to launch more successfully.  Those students have a source of strength, of wisdom, of comfort, of protection, and of direction beyond their parents.  For instance, as a Christian, I know that God is directing my life and from Jeremiah 29:11, I know that He has a plan for me, a plan to prosper and not to harm me, but to give me a hope.  I literally cannot get discouraged because I believe that wherever I am, I am right where He wants me!

At 50, I find myself on the other side of “empty nest syndrome.”  I can tell you that I struggled for a little bit.  It’s amazing how much time you have on your hands when you’re not constantly attentive to your kids’ needs!  It didn’t take long, though, to embrace my new role with my adult children.  How exciting it has been to watch them gain employment, rent new apartments, embrace charitable opportunities, and find love.  We’ve begun the next chapter, and it’s just as much fun as the previous one!

-        Michelle