How Can a Kid This Young Know What to Do?


I heard it come out of my mouth recently: the same two phrases that send shivers down my spine. I was in a conversation with other parents of teenagers about their respective plans for college, a discussion that always, inevitably ends with the same two declarations:

  • “The costs of college are astronomical!”
  • “How can a kid this young know what they want to do with their life? It’s unfair!”

I see it in Facebook comments and in conversations between parents at high school football games, and I even hear it come out of my mouth! It feels unfair to expect a kid today to have clarity, especially when it takes so much effort and focus to be successful as a high school student and qualify for acceptance at a good university. 

A Risky Bet

On the flip side, the old notion that you can just get accepted into and attend a good school and the rest will take care of itself is an expensive risk. Adding an extra semester in college because you changed your mind about your major might be a $45,000 oopsie, plus the sunk costs of time and attention. And it’s still not guaranteed that a college graduate will have a good-paying, secure career when they graduate. In fact, I think it’s been over fifteen years since the headlines started to announce that people now need to have a Master’s degree to be considered qualified for what a Bachelor’s degree did before. 

What Got Us Here?

We are a generation of parents with high expectations for our kids, but we have quite possibly done too little to prepare them to live and think autonomously. We overscheduled their lives and emphasized achievement in everything. We reminded them to make sure they feel happy with their careers but forgot to demonstrate what that could look like. We pushed them to excel in school and started turning up the heat of academic pressure in 7th grade. Oh, and by the way, we put mobile devices in their hands and gave them free rein on social media, too. 

It’s Not Realistic

So, I now realize that I’m not just following the herd or avoiding conflict; I also agree. With the current education system that prioritizes a student to become excellent at all subjects with a high GPA and high test scores to be admitted into expensive universities and barely (if any) guided support along the way to help a kid clarify their identity and sense of purpose in life, we can’t possibly expect a young adult to have clarity on the direction for their lives. 

The Secret

But here’s the secret that I don’t want to hold onto any longer: it’s possible that our expectations aren’t too high; they’re just misplaced. We expect them to be able to get 4.0’s and 1300+ scores on their SATs while also being athletes, participating in a church youth group, and getting community service hours. But we don’t expect teenagers to have self-awareness or defined clarity about the critical dynamics of life. 

Self-awareness for young adults is a radical idea because we haven’t yet included it in our definition of success. We don’t have a vision for it. 

It’s important to understand that guiding young adults to self-awareness isn’t just a strategic idea to save money on college loans; it’s what they long for. They’re desperate to find clarity about their identity. They’re hungry to define their beliefs, set priorities, and stand for things that matter. They want to understand who they are (and who they’re not). They deeply desire to discover what value they offer to the world and find an inner drive that lights their way. 

It’s Possible

Self-awareness for young adults is possible. We can guide them there. I’ve seen it done—I’ve been doing it since the early 2000s. It works, and it’s pretty brilliant if I say so myself. 

I want to start a new trend: self-awareness for young adults. Who’s with me?


Did you know we post new weekly YouTube episodes on essential tips and skills every parent needs to guide their kids to launch confidently into adulthood? Click here to subscribe

P.S. What if there was a way to get the best resources to impact the kids in your life—delivered to you at the right time?
Check out our memberships for parents and educators.

Get the Critical Foundations Book



Do you know?

For years we’ve been studying what a young person needs in order to transition into a healthy, thriving adulthood.  

They're uncommon sense ideas, really.

Download this checklist and use it with your students (or kids).

50% Complete