By Joan Larsen
Looking back, it probably was a fairly smooth path before our kids became teenagers . . . though, in retrospect, we have to admit that we all have had “our moments” back then. Somehow, those years seem like child’s play to us now. In our world today, it is the teen years that expose our children to an adult’s world far too soon. Let’s face it: we, the parents, more often than not, have our hands full. (And we all know what an understatement that is).
College looms. But we see signs that some of our kids aren’t ready. Everyone tells us that there are no jobs. As parents, we are privately screaming: I need help!! And we all know that surprisingly little help is given by the so-called counselors. We are on our own.
Perhaps I can help you. Or let’s just say that I am willing to try – as my suggestions have been just the Godsend parents around me have needed as well.
OK. Your child or grandchild has gone off the rails in his senior year, skipping school and sometimes up to no good. Grades that were high slipped. . . and the plans for college now became a figment of the imagination.
We are not all meant for college in the first place. But often these kids are at loose ends, driving around with a carload of friends you would rather not know, love anything mechanical. If that is your case, read on.
When we were having our car in for maintenance at the car dealer, we asked if they hired kids–“ those good with cars and out of high school”.
“We only consider those who have graduated from WYOTECH”, the manager said. Perhaps you have heard of this school. We hadn’t . . . but we did become expert. There are 5 or 6 campuses all over the country, depending on what type of motors you eventually want to work on. I will let you look it up on the Internet. We suggested a family visit to the campus in Wyoming, a journey which turned out to be one of the best vacations of John’s life.
He was told that his year there would have stringent rules and regulations. Everything was laid on the line. In that single year, you heeded the rules or you were gone. The weekend there was straight forward and he was talked to like a young adult that he was. He loved the new world in another part of the country that the Wyoming campus offered. (The family was pleased that his old and not so good friends would drop away and new ones made. That turned out far better than could ever be believed). At home, a WYOTECH financial person came to do everything possible to make the year affordable . . . far beyond what we had ever seen done before in any college.
The long and short of it: he went, saying it was the best year of his life, and on graduation he had job offers that were at the other end of minimum wage. Two years later: for the major corporation that hired this high school grad with WYOTECH credentials, they are seeing that he is an “up-and-comer”. He has travelled for them, seen parts of our country and Canada that many of us have still not, and come into this own in confidence that cannot be believed. The corporation he works for is watching him closely. If he continues his fast rise, he will be treated to a free college education by them and become an engineer.
He is 21. . . and he is glowing. And so are we!!!!!!
Second story. More boys than girls have dyslexia – the inability to really read or write – but otherwise may have very high IQs. We want the most for our children, the wisest of us beginning to think early on how the child is going to be able to work around this disability. The child, as you might guess, has a low self-esteem as he finishes high school. More than a few times over the years, he has been shunned or called “dumb”.
All right. This was a two-step plan. Most of us have at least heard of OUTWARD BOUND. Nick loved the outdoors, loved hiking, and only in the woods did we see the smiles and confidence that weren’t there at home. He wanted to get out with others his age. The mountains of Idaho were a dream. The group of kids that gathered there were strangers from everywhere in the country – mostly boys but a few girls – and they melded as the days went by. They learned to be self-reliant, able to handle themselves alone and together in rugged environments. But Nick had spent more time on trails than the others. He excelled and became the leader. THE LEADER!!!
What we want for our children is for them to believe in themselves. Nick came home a different person, more mature and unbelievably confident.
For kids with the whole spectrum of what is called “learning disabilities”, Vermont’s LANDMARK COLLEGE is the end-all. They take only teenagers with these problems. We flew out with Nick, spent the weekend, and he found out that he was only one of a multitude who had these serious difficulties of one sort or another. In classes of 5 or fewer, personal counseling daily, special computers that both read and – when you dictated – wrote your many papers, he actually spoke with a confidence we could not believe two years later on the large stage at his graduation. He thanked us by name – from that huge stage – for giving him this chance. (We cried.) Nick was no longer a boy with a not predictable future. What we saw was a young adult who had found himself.
Landmark College has a placement system – knows all the country’s universities that have programs that allow a budding student with learning disabilities to graduate there – and then, as Nick did, go on to get a Masters in Psychology.
My personal belief is that anything is possible. Lives can be turned around. As parents, we want to make sure that our kids see that we have belief in them and love them. By making the search process, interesting and fun in itself, a family thing — we are opening up a world that would be hard to find on their own. They learn the ropes this way. They watch the steps. Next time, they have learned and should be able to make the moves into adulthood without so much of our help.
But for now – in the short period between school and the real world that will be LIFE, I have noticed a wonderful bonding going on between parents and child.
We – the parents – know that we have received the best of life’s gifts in this process.
We could never ask for more.
Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth. But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again. She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”