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Suggestions for the Worried Teen

Ideas that can help.

Key points

  • Some major sources of teen stress are more ameliorable than those later in life.
  • It's helpful to eat away at teen stress by breaking it down into quite specific issues.
  • Rather than pandering to the colleges, make choices that strike the balance between being developmental and fun.
Flockine, Pixabay, Public Domain
Source: Flockine, Pixabay, Public Domain

My teenage clients are, on average, more worried than they were years ago. This is a composite:

My dominant emotion is worry. I had long worried whether college is still worth all the money. But now with college likely to be remote?! Not just having to sit yet more on Zoom, but what about that great social life I was looking forward to at college? I was already nervous about meeting new people and now what?

I don’t like math, science, and computers that much. I’m not that good at them either. Will I be employable in our ever more technological world?

When I hear about home prices, I think I’ll never be able to afford a house unless I’m in a field I’m not interested in like investment banking or corporate law. Even used car prices are crazy.

There’s so much tension between the sexes. Will I ever find someone who’ll be loving and kind?

And my parents, while still healthy, are starting down the hill. Will they be able to get good health care? How much will I have to sacrifice to take care of them?

In short, I’m scared.


These ideas may help you prevail despite headwinds.

In high school, focus more on your development than on impressing colleges.

It may be hard to believe amid the peer pressure, but your high school, college, and later life will, net, not be better and possibly be worse by “going the extra mile” in trying to look good to the colleges. Rather, prepare only modestly for the SAT and take it just once, take a course load that requires only moderate work and thus reduced temptation to cheat, and, with the extra time, do extracurriculars that will be fun and help you grow rather than just to please the colleges. Do you really want to play the tuba or get up at dawn to freeze while rowing crew? It may be better to, for example, get involved in or even start some small business or nonprofit activity.

If you attend a college that's a notch less selective, despite your likely getting a higher GPA, it may be a bit more difficult to land your first professional job, but long-term, that will matter little. What will matter more is attending a college that fits you that, without undue effort, allows more time for the extracurriculars that could enhance your professional and personal life more than would a college’s notch-greater selectivity.

More important than which college is whether you make the most of it.

Perhaps surprisingly, more important than which college you attend is how carefully you choose and make the most of your professors, major, and extracurriculars:

Choose professors whose online reviews indicate that they’re engaging, moderately challenging, and ideally. who are transformational: making you a clearer, more open-minded thinker, a more persuasive writer, a greater appreciator of our amazing if flawed world.

In choosing a major, yes, give brownie points to majors that are likely launchpads to a career that you believe you'd enjoy and be good at. But don’t ignore a major's pleasure potential—pleasure matters. Besides, if you’re enjoying a major, you’re more likely to work harder at it. At your candidate colleges or the institution you choose, review the list of majors. For any that intrigue you, glance at the required courses and elective possibilities. And remember that you're making only a tentative choice. If you don’t like a major after a course or two, you can change.

Regarding extracurriculars, again try to balance their potential for fun and for helping you grow. Do any of these intrigue you: A work-study job for the college’s counseling center? Working at the student newspaper, radio, or TV station? Becoming active in or even starting a club? Note that all those can be done remotely and provide some socializing opportunities.

With regard to meeting fine friends and romantic partners, your best chances are to keep putting your best self out there and erring toward intelligence, ethics, and kindness. And when your intuition says that being involved with a particular person isn’t in your interests, cut your losses and search elsewhere. There are a lot of fish in the sea.

Try to find mentors. Much growth occurs one-on-one. So, ask favorite professors, administrators, and older students for counsel. Show appreciation.

Regarding your worry about future income, given our materialistic culture, the following may be hard to accept but, more important than buying a million-dollar house, cool car, expensive clothes, and fancy vacations are good relationships, creative outlet, and a rewarding and, yes, reasonably remunerative career. Choose a career in which you'd likely do well, then do a diligent job search or start a simple, low-risk business, invest rather than overspend, and you will have put the odds much in your favor.

The takeaway

It's almost axiomatic that teens resist advice from adults. But does this post contain even any seeds that you'd like to plant? If so, your "tree" will likely grow well and bear fruit.

I read this aloud on YouTube.

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