I have worked with young people who often say phrases like ‘I should’ or ‘Everyone expects me to’ rather than ‘I really want to’ or ‘It is really important to me’.
The transition from adolescence to adult hood is a highly pressured, roller coaster experience for young people. It is a time when they are being expected to make decisions that can shape their futures, but are they really provided with the environment and the right support, to empower them to make the right decisions for them? Or do we superimpose expectations and group norms on them, that can be limited to our own knowledge base and experiences?
Often we talk about raising aspirations but it is not necessarily about low aspirations. Are we allowing the young persons aspirations to be heard and valued?
Developmental theories of adolescent development, in the late teens (key stage 4 & 5) highlight the importance of ‘identity formation’. The theories identify that young people need to develop an understanding of themselves and their own identity, what is important to them (principles, values, beliefs, interests) and use this as a basis to make choices about their future. There are two well known theories:
- Erikson’s theory of development, notes a stage known as Identity versus Role Confusion. This states the importance of developing an understanding of the self, and that those who remain true to themselves and what is important to them will be more successful. A lack of understanding of one’s own identity will lead to role confusion and an increased risk of negative outcomes in later life.
- Marcia’s Life Stages theory of identity formation outlines four possible scenarios. Integral to this is the concept that to achieve an identity, you need to understand your beliefs and values and make goals / commitments in line with these (identity achievement). Alternatively people may not have any ideas / direction for their desired future (identity diffusion); may be following a direction that they are not truly committed to / may not have explored all their options, suggestions / expectation of others may have influenced their decisions (identity foreclosure); may be experiencing an identity crisis and trying to find direction (identity moratorium)
Common to both theories of adolescent development, is the importance of them exploring what is important to them and what makes them ‘tick’. To enable this to happen in a healthy way, young people need the opportunity to explore their dream future for themselves. It is possible that adolescents can be forced into a career direction, can believe they have no choice or simply not have thought about the decision as outlined in Marcia’s Life Stages (1966; 1993). If young people do not discover their ‘dream’ they are unlikely to achieve their potential, and may experience difficulties (relationship breakdown with care givers, educational underperformance, mental health issues).
There is a lot of talk of needing to raise aspirations of young people and their families to allow them to reach their potential. However, research by JRF (http://www.jrf.org.uk/publications/aspirations-attitudes-educational-attainment-roundup) identified the need for young people and families to know how to access the information and find out about the options available to young people, rather than increase their aspirations
“the study stressed that the real difficulty for many children was in knowing how to fulfil their ambitions. Rather than raising aspirations in order to raise attainment, there is a real need for children and parents to be offered support to learn more about educational and career options so they can make more informed decisions about their future.” (Carter-Wall & Whitfield, 2012)
Therefore it can be argued that there are three key ingredients for young people to make the right choices for their future:
- Developing a clear understanding of self (talents, strengths, beliefs, values)
- Exploration of a range of options available to them (e.g. further study, apprenticeships, entrepreneurial, gap year, volunteering)
- Making a plan with their dreams at the heart of it, that is both realistic and exciting
If these key aspects are all present, young people are more likely to feel motivated, excited, and focussed to achieve their best, which in turn will result in a successful outcome for them.
Life coaching can be one way to support young people to begin exploring all choices, to build a happy, healthy future. After life coaching sessions this is what some young people said it helped with:
“It helped me to decide what I want to do in the future”
“Knowing more about life, what I may want to do”
“Thinking about where I wanted to be 5 years on really helped me, imagining what would make me happy in my future life”