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Navigating adolescence after graduation

By Caitlin Nearhood • May 23, 2019 at 4:00 PM

As hundreds of students across the region prepare to flip their tassels, the next phase of their lives is on the horizon. 

Some will go to college, while others will head to the workforce, military or seek further education through specific job training. No matter their path, high school graduates will experience the changes and challenges of adulthood.

Psychology professors at two Ohio universities agree the brain is still developing at high school’s end. 

“At 18, they’re in emerging adulthood,” said Yvette Harris, who teaches at Miami University. “They’re looking for their first job, living in a dorm with roommates for the first time and thinking about living on their own.”

“Impulse control is still under construction,” said Colleen McMahon of Cleveland State University. “It’s true for all students. At this point in their lives, they’ll also have excitement and then fear, which is consistent with brain development.”

Some experts believe the brain is fully developed at about age 25, but it depends on life experiences.

“What determines how developed the brain is are people’s experiences, like how often they read and when they started,” Harris said.

But before they move onto adulthood, adolescents need independence.

“If independence hasn’t been promoted at the high school level, there can be a terrible transition to college,” McMahon said. “If there’s been authoritarian parenting, then 18-year-olds will experience excitement. But once they have a taste of freedom, they might be too involved partying, have bad grades, etc.”

How to cope 

Since the period between high school and adulthood can cause depression and anxiety, new high school graduates shouldn’t be too hard on themselves.

“Students can be patient with themselves with where they are — ‘adulting’ takes time, patience, experiences, failures and successes. And nobody’s perfect at adulting,” Harris said.

Having an adult mentor — whether a parent or a trusted adult — can help, too.

“Mentors can model priorities for students,” Harris said. “For those going to college or not, support needs to be there.”

Both Harris and McMahon agree students need to learn how to handle constructive criticism and make changes.

“(We should) teach kids that receiving feedback is something we have the rest of our lives, so they should learn to receive feedback, ask questions and improve for next time,” McMahon said. “In classes I teach, it’s frustrating to receive the same results from students after I give feedback.”

Knowing how to reduce stress will help create balance in adolescents’ lives.

“I see more students (at Cleveland State University) who are engaged in yoga, exercise, putting in breaks for themselves and eating healthy,” McMahon said.

Budgeting time, a crucial life skill, should start early in life.

“Children should be supported in developing calendars and planners and learn how to take breaks so can they can manage their time in middle school, high school and college,” McMahon said. “You definitely want to support your student being in charge of their planning.”

McMahon recommends students look at assignment deadlines and work backward. “Some stress you can get rid of by working on things ahead so it reduces stress and develops good work habits,” she said.

Additionally, families shouldn’t hesitate to ask for advice from the school district their students attend.

“They are a rich resource and they want to help,” McMahon said. “Don’t be afraid to start planning ahead and look to the school district for college preparation help.”

Coming in the May 25-26 Weekender: the Tandem Media Network graduation guide featuring graduating seniors from area schools.

Reach reporter Caitlin Nearhood at [email protected], follow her on Twitter @CaitlinNearhood and on Facebook.com/CaitliNearhood

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