Any helpful guidance for family member who is leaving High School?
July 16, 2014 10:06 AM   Subscribe

I have a family member that has chosen to leave high school at 16. I need some help or resources for us to guide a constructive process.

He and I talk somewhat regularly and I try to provide a non-judgemental space to discuss his decision. That said, it is hard to reserve my judgement sometimes as I think it is a somewhat bad idea and I won't say that I am perfect in this approach. What I really need is advice on how I can approach the topic with him without being overbearing but without being too easy on him either. He does plan to get his GED which I think is a good opportunity for me to see his commitment to completing something (I still feel skeptical, this that judgement part I referenced above) to show me he is serious about just wanting an alternative and not because he doesn't feel like it.

I know he kind of "hangs out" a lot with his friends which is natural but any concrete resources, books, or blogs about how to balance this with work/progression would be great. Also any advice or criticism toward my approach would be welcome as well. Ultimately, I just want to help him navigate through life and find a good path for him. He does have a job at McDonald's currently which is good on one front I suppose.
posted by occidental to Human Relations (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Another good book: But What if I Don't Want to Go to College? Gets into really good detail about what some other careers entail.
posted by Melismata at 10:20 AM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

My parents forced me to quit school when I was 15. I worked in a hospice, got a GED, went to college, did a research fellowship at Harvard, immigrated to Canada, and now manage a team of editors in a job I really love.

Quitting school, even though it wasn't by my choice, didn't stop me from doing anything I wanted with my life. Your family member will either be fine or he won't, but that's true for every single person whether or not they are currently enrolled in school.
posted by kate blank at 10:25 AM on July 16, 2014 [8 favorites] This is intended as a resource for homeschoolers. It might be useful to you.

You also might look up information about how wealth happens. Most wealthy people are entrepreneurs (unless they inherited). Some of them never finished high school or are college drop-outs. Bill Gates dropped out of college. Madonna dropped out of college. People who do well as entrepreneurs are very often "misfits" who don't do well with holding a regular job. Running a business successfully takes a different mindset/personality than succeeding at a day job. And day jobs rarely make anyone rich.
posted by Michele in California at 10:27 AM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I left high school at 16 and I'm now a happy massage therapist. He'll be fine. Just encourage him to get his GED and not to take any postsecondary studies unless he's going to finish them; unfinished postsecondary causes a lot more problems than a GED; if he ever wants to do upgrading it's available. He can also go into a trade at his age.
posted by windykites at 10:40 AM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Quitting school isn't the end of the world, unless it's so you can sit home and do nothing. What are his plans? I hope he'll be getting a job, and if he's living at home, I hope he'll be working and contributing to the household.

Here's the thing, if he's allowed to drop out and do nothing, there's NOTHING you can say or offer that's going to be more appealing than that.

What are his plans? Will he try to enlist in the military? (A GED candidate has a proven track record of not completing a full term of military service, so the services tend NOT to recruit non-high school graduates.)

Is trade school on the horizon? Would he be happier staying in high school if he went to a Vocational School rather than high school? This may be an option, but bear in mind, they have VERY high standards for their students.

Now in California they have a California High School Proficiencey Exam, this allows minors to leave high school an pursue college at an early age. Or just get out into the workforce.

There are lots of resources, but I think the most helpful thing you and your parents can do is to set appropriate boundaries regarding behavior and jobs and contributing to the household.

As for your familiy member, you can ask him what he wants to do, but ultimately that's his gig and his parents if he plans to continue to live at home.

Typically I'd view a 16 year-old wanting to drop out of school in two ways.

1. He's so turned on by something that school just gets in the way of it. He may be a kick-ass animator, or a programmer or a genius car mechanic or whatever. In which case, more power buddy, what do you need to keep succeeding.

2. He's not into school, but he's not into anything else. He's unmotivated, and lackidaisical. Should probably be evaluated for depression.

Which one is your family member, and what do you think would help him most?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:41 AM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and a job at McDonalds doesn't seem like much but he can become a manager relatively quickly and having that under his belt is a good thing.
posted by windykites at 10:42 AM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have some experience with this. I'm not an educator and I don't have resources to suggest, but I would mention two things. First, keep perspective on verb tense as you describe a 16-year-old in July who "has chosen" to leave high school. Minds and decisions change. I've seen kids walk away from high school and not return, but some do. And I've seen plenty whose summer jobs jade them about returning to school in the fall, but mostly those kids flow back to class with the current. Peer pressure can be beneficial.

Apart from that, I think you're on the right track by examining how much of an influence you should play in his life in terms of active versus passive. Do you tell him it's a bad idea? Do you tell him only if he's explicitly asking your opinion, or is it sufficient that he opens the door by venting to you? Will he explicitly ask, if he wants your advice, or will you have to read between the lines to know that? This is squishy stuff. It depends on you, him, the nature of your relationship, and what kind of other support structures he has in place. Maybe you're his only adult influence apart from a single mom, or maybe we're talking about a big family and he also sees a therapist.

Being toward the fringes of that circle is difficult. Sure, being directly in the mix as a parent is difficult too, but we talk about that challenge all the time. What we don't discuss as often is the challenge of balancing your responsibility to be a good influence—because it truly does take a village—with the importance, for a variety of reasons including your well-being and his, of maintaining an appropriate level of detachment. It's tricky to navigate. But there are valid and important considerations on each side, so don't fault yourself for weighing them.

With the kids I've seen who do leave high school, it's not uncommon for them to feel regret, to want to return but to feel locked-into their decision. Some of this comes from circumstances and emotions you can't have much effect on, like the embarrassment of returning to their former social habitat on a lower rung. But if there is one thing I'd say these kids could use help with, it's reinforcing that it's never too late. They have no problem getting over the hurdle of it being "too early" to leave high school, but then they feel it's too late to go back. I'm not saying that every kid needs to be talked into going back to school, but too many of them feel they can't. Help him understand that every day is a new decision.
posted by cribcage at 10:46 AM on July 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm not saying that every kid needs to be talked into going back to school, but too many of them feel they can't.

Yes. A lot of students drop out figuring that they can just get a GED later, but many of them end up not doing so because they thought it was too late.
posted by jgirl at 11:13 AM on July 16, 2014

In retrospect, I wish I'd quit HS when I was 16 like a few of my friends. I think it would have been better for me. It may not have been the best decision for them though. Last I heard, one of them was a college professor. Even worse, the other one is an anesthesiologist with a sailboat and a small plane.

As for advice on how to help: Accept and encourage any mid-to-long term goals he has. If he doesn't have any, help him explore his options and form some. Support and encourage short term goals and the actions that get him there. Reserve negative judgement, and only apply judiciously to getting him to hold himself accountable for lack of progress on short-term goals he's identified for himself.

For example, he should absolutely get his GED as soon as possible. It sounds like, at some level, he knows that, and has accepted it, if only because doing so was part of the negotiation to leave high school early. As an adult though, he needs to own that decision. He doesn't need to be made to feel shitty about not having achieved that goal. He may need help realizing that he needs to own the decision, and he may need help in taking full-ownership and achieving the goal OR identifying a reasonable goal that takes its place.
posted by Good Brain at 12:32 PM on July 16, 2014

You might encourage him to take a practice GED now, so he can see what it's like. I tutored a young man for his GED and we both agreed that finishing high school would have been a whole lot easier.

And not to be Debbie Downer, but employers don't expect a 16 year old to have a high school diploma, but as a 20 or 21 year old applying for the same type of job, it's a strike against him.
posted by auntie maim at 1:42 PM on July 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

College Without High School is another good book. Its applicable even if college is not in the plan.
posted by COD at 3:43 PM on July 16, 2014

Maybe, rather than beginning the conversation by framing his options (this is what you can/can't/should/shouldn't do), ask questions. Feel him out, get a sense of his reasoning, motivations, and concerns, and if he trusts you and is open to it, maybe think through the risks and benefits of the available options together.

(Though honestly, if it were a kid I was responsible for (rather than an additional ear), I'd be inclined to get authoritarian, just on this particular subject. People can do all right without a high school diploma, and some do fantastically well, but that comes down to individual differences. A secondary level education of some kind is basic preparation for membership in society, whether it's because of what's actually taught or the fact of the diploma -- he'll be making things hard for himself without anything at all, and will narrow his options -- and the odds of pursuing the better ones -- considerably. If it were a young person I cared about, I wouldn't feel good about leaving it to chance.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:35 PM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Taking the GED as a concrete example: If he is serious about passing the GED, then he is aware of the different parts of the GED, he has a good idea about how ready he is to pass it (perhaps from practice tests), he has a pretty clear idea about when he will actually take it (possibly having scheduled it), and he does regular studying to shore up any places where he is weak.

If he is on track with something like the above, he is way past your typical 16 year old, and you should tell him so.

If all he knows is he's going "get his GED" one of these days, this is more typical. Unfortunately, typical means he's not serious about it and may never get it done.

You can help him break up the process of passing the GED into actionable steps (perhaps finer grained than the above), and you can be a source of accountability for him as he starts taking those steps.

Try to make this a cooperative effort where you both feel like you're on the same team. If it turns into a game of nagging, it won't do much good, and may make him positively averse to doing anything at all. If you start getting no progress, sullenness, and resentment in response to your encouragements, back off, don't push harder.
posted by mattu at 5:26 PM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

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