(BPT) - With mounting pressures and expectations, the high school years can feel overwhelming - for students and parents alike. Teens grapple with questions like: Which colleges should I apply to? What should I choose as a major? What do I really want to do with my life? What if I don't have a clue?
As a parent you naturally want to give advice and steer them in the right direction, but you also know it's a tricky balance. It's their life, after all, as they'll often remind you.
So how can you help? Encourage them to explore different interests, with no strings attached. Look for activities beyond the usual choices. Research extracurricular programs at your school, in your community, even overseas so they can see the breadth of what's out there. Expose them to a range of possibilities and see what they pick.
Does your teen already have a clear focus? Look for innovative programs that allow them to dig even deeper in real-world settings. Or maybe your son or daughter is shy or stuck in a rut and needs a gentle nudge to try something new? It's amazing how a change of scenery can inspire students and tap hidden talents. Over time they'll gravitate toward one thing or another, and the journey will be rich with self-discovery.
From local to global, there are many valuable paths that help spark new interests while building self-knowledge, confidence and 21st century skills along the way.
Most high schools offer a range of extracurricular opportunities to get involved in a topic of interest or try out something new, from sports and theater to robotics and debate. Many offer programs with an international theme as well. After-school language clubs provide a chance to practice conversational skills in a relaxed environment while joining in cooking and other cultural activities. And bonding with other language enthusiasts inspires many to want to travel to experience different cultures first-hand! Larger high schools offer more languages, from French, Spanish and German to Mandarin, Arabic and Japanese, while teens with more limited offerings can often find regional programs a bus ride away.
Model UN is another valuable program that teaches students about the world around them, and builds confidence as well as leadership and communication skills. A new activity picked up on a whim may turn into a lifetime source of joy or even a career. If options are limited at school, branch out. Urge your teen to get involved in the local community, meet new people, and bond with others who share similar interests. They'll see what's out there in the bigger world while demonstrating to colleges and employers that they're engaged beyond the standard classroom requirements.
When teens offer their time and talent to nonprofits and worthy causes, they gain more than just real-world experience for their college resumes. They gain maturity, perspective, practical skills and a greater appreciation for what they've got. Volunteering can be customized to one's own interests, whether it means walking dogs at an animal shelter or building a website for an environmental group. Adventurous students can take it one step further by participating in service programs abroad. Whether working to raise social awareness, lending a hand with environmental and conservation project, or mentoring underprivileged youth, teens grow exponentially during a summer far away from their usual routine.
Studying abroad is not just for college. More and more high school students are making the leap overseas for summer programs or for a semester or gap year. As many students, parents and guidance counselors have discovered, this is an opportune time to develop valuable lifelong skills, learn a new language and discover career interests in a way that is not possible in an everyday classroom environment. Perhaps the ultimate opportunity for personal growth, studying abroad also expands communication skills and helps students understand different cultures and ways of living.
Not sure study abroad has crossed your teen's mind? Surf the web together for resources and get on mailing lists for brochures. CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange), a nonprofit that operates high school study abroad programs in more than 30 global destinations, is a good place to start. Transported to a world far different from their own, teens find themselves fully immersed in a new topic and a foreign culture. Programs range from three weeks in the summer to a full semester or academic year.
Planning ahead is key. By involving a teacher or counselor in the discussion early on, you'll ensure a smooth transition to and from the study abroad experience. It also gives you more time to plan finances and research scholarships to make the opportunity possible. Do your research sooner rather than later: Organizations like CIEE offer scholarships based on merit and financial considerations, but be sure to check the application deadlines so you don't miss out.
To learn more about CIEE's Global Navigator High School Study Abroad program and available scholarships, visit ciee.org/globalnavigators.