Getting a bit stuck when trying to make choices is nothing unusual and something I work on with teens quite a lot. Particularly this time of year, coming up to and during exam season, I have a lot of requests for conversations because students are struggling to make their final choices between colleges and courses and feel really stressed about it.
In those cases we talk through their ideas, look at how they might link with future goals and if anything specific might be required for their future plans or if there are any that might not actually suit them after all. But quite often that still leaves “too many” choices that are all equally good. This is very, very common, and if it is happening to your teen the best thing they could probably do… is nothing.
At least for a bit.
When the best thing to do is nothing at all
Now, this might sound like odd advice, particularly as I am usually such a fan of doing something, anything, to generate ideas. But there is a difference between feeling unsure at the start of researching because we haven’t actually looked at anything yet, and having explored and researched and being stuck on the “narrowed down” options.
Yes, if your teen is unsure and hasn’t really started to look at what local colleges offer or what apprenticeships may be available related to their interests, then starting to look at stuff is useful.
But if they have done the research and are stuck on the narrowed down options, maybe five college courses that they need to get down to three for example. Then it is time for a break! Particularly if they are going through exams!
My experience is that for so many of us we get a decision “blockages” when we have too many things going on. Often the pressure to make a choice comes more from ourselves because we want it done so we can stop thinking about it. But if there isn’t a hard deadline coming up very soon, then it’s better to leave it a little.
Encourage your teen to “park” the decision for a bit. Sometimes a few days are fine, like leaving the draft of the university personal statement for a day or two before working on it again. Sometimes it’s best to wait until something major is out of the way, e.g. GCSE exams.
I see it every year. Once the exams are done and the pressure drops, something goes “click” and the decision becomes much easier. And at the very least they will have more capacity to go back over research etc.
There’s often more time than it might seem
Your teen might want to get that personal statement or application form done but can’t get over writer’s block. Or they are desperate to make that final choice on college courses. But if there’s no hard deadline it’s often better to take a step back and leave it for a little while.
So check with them when the deadlines actually are. For college, the final choices are normally not made until they get their GCSE results in August for example.
And if the personal statement isn’t due tomorrow, closing down their computer and doing something fun may actually be the best move they can make. It gives the mind some “breathing spaces” and often a fresh perspective.
So if your teen is stressing about their, personal statement, the final A-level choices, or which college to go to, give them a hug, tell them it’s perfectly normal and to park the problem for a little while, give their brain a break and then give it another go. Then take them out for ice cream or something! And if a break alone is not quite doing the trick and you think they could do with a bit of help to work through the options, have a look at the individual guidance sessions I offer. It could be just the thing to help them talk through all their ideas, discuss their concerns or questions, and get unstuck. You can find out more here https://www.cheerfulcareers.com/lets-work-together/