By Andrea Fleming, High School Counselor, United Nations International School Hanoi, ISCA Taskforce memberPacking for university 30 years ago, I have a vivid memory of my mother walking into the room and tossing a book at me as she exclaimed, “I’ve been meaning to give this to you for a long time.” She hurried out as I turned to spy What Every Girl Should Know About Her Body lying forlornly upon my bed. Ugh, really? I scoffed with embarrassment. Looking back now, as a mother myself and a counselor who has worked with countless international families over the years, I have much more sympathy for this bittersweet, confusing and emotional phase of parenting where very little guidance is provided yet much is needed. Many school counselors create successful letting-go programmes or lessons that include learning how to do laundry or change a tire. But let’s be real – many university students send their laundry out to be done and most don’t own a car. Besides life skills, counselors need to prepare families for ensuring their pre-college teens embody the values and attitudes reflective of their individual culture and family. This is what should guide the teaching and learning of both hard skills and soft skills as we prepare students to embark on their post-high school life. What does responsibility look like in different families? Respect? Spirituality? Stewardship? Wellness? School counselors would be wise to refer to the idea of letting-go as a running metaphor throughout the high school years, and not wait until the months before graduation to start a formal programme. Try the following three steps to get you started on using family values to prepare parents and teens for post-high school plans:
1. Start each year of high school with a parent meeting dedicated to the topic of life after high school through the lens family values; encourage both (if applicable) parents/guardians to attend. During this meeting, ask parents to generate a list of basic life values. You can have words pre-written for them or ask the audience to offer ideas; try using digital tools like Menti or if you prefer more movement during your parent sessions, participants can write individual ideas on sticky notes and post them to flip chart paper around the room. Encourage sharing and conversation at tables. Have parents then choose from the ideas and create their individual family set of values. Ask them to reflect just how well their children already embody these attitudes and which ones need more work and development. Documenting this is important as parents should share this list with their children and refer to it throughout the school year. The Center for Parenting Education reminds us that values change over time: “Values can and do change with time, age and experience,” which is why this exercise is valuable to repeat every year. Their article, Values Matter: Using Your Values to Raise Caring, Responsible, Resilient Children is a great resource to support this initial parent session and encourages parents to delve deeper into the activity of exploring family values.
2. Have parents collate their list of values with the important life skills needed after graduation. Again, you can have parents generate a list during this meeting or use this one offered in Grown and Flown: 100 Essential Life Skills Teens Needs to Learn at Home. #47 Decide between a doctor’s appointment, urgent care and the ER; #35 Correctly use over-the-counter medications; and #13 Make, change, or cancel an appointment are all actions parents probably do now for their children. These could fall under the family value of Health & Wellness or Responsibility and are actionable items that can and should be taught to teens before they leave home. Again, these ideas should be documented so both parents and students have a checklist of which skills they would like to focus on throughout the year, and which family values the skills fall under so teens are reminded of the significance and purpose of their learning. Ask parents to map out which value to hone in on each month (or one value could cover two months). Then parents can teach those associated life skills during that time frame. Encourage parents to have family meetings in order to plan when the skills should be taught as well as to reflect upon the process. Teen buy-in is going to be of primary importance! Parents could also complete this step at home as a family.3. Refer to the values meeting throughout the school year in planning your student activities, parent workshops, and school-home communication.
- Covering a lesson on refusal skills? Communicate with parents that this skill could fall under their family value of Respect or Responsibility and warrant a further discussion at home.
- Fire drill at school? Remind parents that teaching children how to maintain and turn off a smoke alarm could be covered now (if it is on their list of life skills).
- Holidays coming up? Parents can use this opportunity to educate their children how to make a budget and plan their travels.
Counselors are encouraged to host a set of parent education sessions during the school year supporting parents in navigating how to teach these salient life skills to their children.
Liz Kozodoy from the International School of Amsterdam and Kristen Belka Rosenfield from Luanda International School did a brilliant presentation at the recent ISCA Collaborative in November 2022: Letting Go & Learning to Fly: University Transition for Students and Parents/Guardians (check the Whova app for their slides and resources). They recommend specific lessons and presentation resources for preparing students and parents for this major life transition. They highlight “Activities to Do in Snippets”: one idea per paper placed into a glass jar parents and students can pull from every week. For example, write a letter to your child telling them how much faith you have in them or imagine and discuss holidays when your child is away at university. For students, cook 3-4 meals with confidence and attend a CPR class and learn basic first aid. They even have scenarios with guiding questions that school counselors can use at a parent coffee morning. For example, it’s October and all the friendships your child made in the first few months are not really working out. They sound miserable and say they don’t like the people there. What do you/can you do? Throughout their presentation, Kozodoy and Rosenfield refer to excellent resources for both parents and counselors, especially The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition by Tina Quick and The Naked Roommate by Harlan Cohen. Any letting-go programme and sessions created by school counselors will obviously dovetail perfectly with this yearly endeavor of highlighting family values and the important life skills that align. As outlined above, these considerable and vital topics can be addressed throughout Grades 9 to 12 at home and at school and can bring valuable insight and connections to families, preparing both parents and students for the daunting yet exciting transition to preparing for life after high school.