When the Real World Bites: Preparing Graduates for the Realities of Adult Life

September 17th, 2009

It’s the day the Class of 2004 has been looking toward for a long time: graduation. The actual ceremony is a rite of passage complete with robes, caps, speakers, gifts, and depending on your school, even some confetti and a band. But after all the awards, diplomas, and scholarships are handed out, the graduates must face an even greater challenge than an AP biology test or the Presidential Physical Fitness Challenge: Students must face the real world.

Sure, more than half of high school graduates hide from the realities of the real world by heading to college, the most common sanctuary. But a solid percentage won’t have the luxury of having their life padded by dorm rooms, cafeteria food, and the safe, bubblelike living that college affords. Some will actually have to get a full-time job (or two), pay their own insurance, and (gasp) move out of their parent’s house. While paying electric bills, car insurance, and finding friends comes naturally to some, it’s a shock to others.

How can you prepare your students for real-world living? Here are a few ideas:

1. Don’t let graduates feel left behind. Around the spring semester, every high school senior is being asked the same question over and over: “What are you going to do after graduation?” Most students rattle off a summer job, project, or trip followed by the name of a college or university. But many students don’t choose to pursue higher education for financial or personal reasons. I’ve had a number of high school friends say they felt like a failure because they never went to college or left the local area. When you have the entire world ahead of you, it can be humbling to stay in your hometown, especially when it’s a small one.

As a youth worker, it’s important to encourage all of your students—especially those who are going to remain in the area. Encourage them in their work and personal choices. Look for ways to help them transition into the church body as an adult. Do they want to play a bigger role in working with the youth group? Is there another area of service or church life they can get involved with? Look for ways to help graduates expand their view of their lives and themselves.

2. Focus a few sessions on the real world. Most high school students have little idea about the day-to-day realities of the real world. Little things like getting a job and then actually working full-time can be a pretty sobering reality check for an 18-year-old. Consider sharing some of your own work history and stories with your students. Remind students that the entry-level job is where everyone begins. It’s going to be challenging. There’s going to be lots of filing, stapling, or asking, “Would you like fries with that?” But one day, if they continue to do good work, things will get better.

3. Talk about money. Almost every church talks about tithing, but how many churches talk about money? Most high school graduates have little working knowledge of finances, and while it would be nice to assume moms and dads are teaching kids how to balance their checkbooks, don’t bank on it. Talk to your kids about money. Talk to them about credit cards, debt, the “great offers” that come in the mail, and insurance. Explain to them how a sale really isn’t saving money if it takes six months to pay off the credit card. Discuss financial issues from a biblical worldview, and throw in some practical tips on handling their funds.

4. Don’t forget the family. The relationships between students and their parents naturally change after graduation. For some it becomes better, and for others it can get much worse. An estimated 60 percent of high school graduates will move back home with mom and dad, and roughly 10 percent of adults ages 25 to 34 are still living with their parents.

Open up a discussion one week on living with mom and dad after graduation. Talk about healthy boundaries. Talk about respect. Talk about financial responsibility. Discuss how roles between parents and children change as children become adults. And remind students of the positive side of living with the ‘rents. On top of the financial benefits, living at home affords many young people a time to renew their relationships with their parents. They can learn how to handle adult responsibilities—whether it’s training a new dog or fixing a leak in the roof—with someone who has a little more experience. Remind students that living with mom and dad isn’t so bad, after all.

5. Give them a realistic view of the Christian life. Upon graduation, many students will be given a choice for the first time about whether they go to church and pursue a relationship with God. While Christian camps and retreats provide great spiritual highs, authentic faith is developed in the day to day. Talk to your students about different denominations and churches. Let those who are moving away know that they may not find a church or group just like the one they’ve been at, but they can still find a great church to attend. Encourage them to continue growing in their relationship with Christ when they’re on their own.

The bottom line is to be real and authentic with your kids who, by the way, have now begun their journey as adults.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.