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Deciding the Future

In less than a month my eldest will start high school, and I’m having some trouble wrapping my head around that.

It’s not that I’m terribly worried about him. He’s a level-headed kid, with good friends, and lots of family support. He managed the transition to junior high without much trouble. He gets decent grades, participates in things, and manages his time well. He’ll do fine.

It’s not even that it makes me feel old to have a kid in high school (although it does a little). This day has been coming for a while, just as his driver’s license is coming after that, and graduation comes after that, and so forth. Kids grow up, and parents grow old. It’s the natural way of things. It doesn’t get me worked up very much.

No, the bit that’s making my head spin is the realization that he’s now making decisions that will affect him for the rest of his life, and that scares me a little. My wife and I have done what we can to prepare him to this point, and we’ll obviously continue to support him through this next stages of his life, but to a certain extent he’s now becoming responsible for his future, and whatever choices he makes, I can’t help but worry about where they’ll take him.

In a way, this is less true now than it was when I started high school. The fact is these days that very few people stay in one career or one job for most of their lives. The direction that he chooses will very likely need to change over the course of his life, as he adapts to the rapid changes in technology and culture and economics that now characterize our world.

The fact is also that many kids are now taking longer and longer to leave home, choosing to stay in the family unit through university or even afterward, delaying the moment when they need to live with the full consequences of the choices they’ve made.

But it’s also the case that kids are far more directed by school counsellors and social structures now than they were previously. Near the end of Grade 8, the students in our school district sat down and plugged their first and second career choice into a computer program. It then told them what courses they needed to take, what activities they should pursue, and what special programs were available to them, all leading to the post-secondary option that best suited their goals.

It’s not that this track can’t (and probably will) change, of course, but it feels like their movement through high school is much more on rails and much less open to exploring new interests, much more focused on an end occupation and much less interested in fostering well-rounded humans. All at a point when most of us have little idea about what we want to do with our lives.

And while I certainly don’t want to squash his ambitions (option #1 – chef; option #2 – soccer referee), I worry that deciding too rigidly on these things now will only limit his options in the future. I would hate to see a Grade 8 class exercise direct him in ways that he comes to regret.

So, what I’m trying to work out now is how much of that is a real concern, and how much of it is just my own issues as a parent. How much should I encourage him to broaden and explore his other interests, and how much should I just back off and let him do his thing.

And the reality is, I’m no more certain of the future than he is.