Parental guidance: Support, not control

Students should find a field they're passionate about and make that their goal, a guidance counselor says.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Parents and teachers have a major impact on what kids choose to do after high school.
"We -- teachers, parents, coaches -- don't realize how much influence we really do have on kids," said Tom Mentges, a guidance counselor at Austintown Fitch High School. "Parents can put a lot of stress on high-school students."
Parents may be so intent on ensuring that their children earn high marks that they neglect to ask the students what they want. These kids often try to fulfill their parents' dreams and end up "struggling just as much as the ones who don't know what they want to do," he said.
They may become doctors, like Mom wanted, and then discover that they really wanted to do something else. They may go after their own dreams then, Mentges said, but it takes them longer to achieve them than if they had done so right out of high school.
Mentges advises kids to find what they're passionate about. "You have to be able to get up every morning and want to go to work. If you're not happy with what you're doing, you're not going to be happy."
Finding a match: Information on a wide variety of careers is available in the guidance office, he said, and aptitude tests can help kids determine their strengths and weaknesses as well as their likes and dislikes.
Sometimes, interests don't match abilities, Mentges continued. Even so, "you don't want to squash someone's dream." Once kids think they know what they'd like to do, "we encourage them to do volunteer work in areas that they're interested in." That way, they can make sure that they really like the field before making it their career, he said.
At Fitch, about 10 percent of the senior class volunteers as tutors, child-care workers and other roles throughout the community.
Kids whose parents are involved in their education early on are more likely to excel in school and have a better idea of their strengths and weaknesses by the time they are juniors or seniors in high school, said Anita Groubert, a guidance counselor at The Rayen School. Students who know their strengths are better able to choose a career path, she said.
Career development courses and counseling introduce students to a variety of professions and show them how to relate what they learned in school to the workplace. This helps kids develop ideas about what they'd like to do and prompts them to establish goals, she said.
"These kids need to have direction" before they are overwhelmed by peer pressure not to do well or to cut class, Groubert said.
"Peer pressure is a big influence," she said. For many kids, "it becomes a big distraction."
Other concerns: Deciding what to do after graduating from high school and coping with peer pressure are not the only things that worry teen-agers today, added Rich Washinko, principal of Salem High School.
Teens worry about the financial aspects of higher education -- how they are going to pay for tuition upfront and how they are going to repay loans after graduation. Today's high school students are more concerned about costs, he said, "because they may be more responsible for it" than earlier generations.
As a result, the prospect of receiving financial assistance through scholarships and awards "is a great incentive for students to get good grades," he said, "but it puts on the pressure." The Salem High School Alumni Association awards scholarships to every graduate with a grade-point average of 3.4 or higher, Washinko said, so he sees firsthand how pressure to do well affects kids.

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