In last week’s column, I talked about the dilemma of the directionless youth, particularly one who has completed high school or college, and is not sure of the next step. Often, that young person will appear to choose nothing, simply because they have yet to discover a path in life that excites them, or the obstacles in moving forward seem too large. There can also be an interesting conflict of wants; parents and/or friends may have specific wishes and expectations for someone, but that person is torn between honouring those wishes and pleasing others, or striking off in his or her own direction at the risk of upsetting those friends and family members.

To be able to have a conversation with a youth or young adult in seeking to discover their reason for “drifting”, a few important factors are critical. Perhaps most significant of these is the presence of a relationship with a parent or friend that is defined by trust and respect. That means the person seeking to conduct this conversation must have a degree of healthy connection with the youth, and is comfortable asking tough questions, but also listening fully and thoughtfully to the answers received. In essence, there must be a clear climate of acceptance and caring underlying the conversation, combined with a degree of authentic investment in the youth’s life, regardless of who the “adult” figure may be. Without this climate of trust and respect, negative assumptions and fears of unkind responses will absolutely hinder any youth from freely sharing their thoughts as well as any ability to accept support in moving forward.

Once the conversation begins, we need to be in a place where we can truly accept and honour what is said, and be open to new ideas and suggestions. For example, within the past few months I met with a teen who had some specific ideas about what he wished to do after high school, but was afraid to express them. More than anything, he wanted to spend a year traveling abroad, working as needed to earn money, and embracing the experience of broadening his horizons in a new and exciting way. So why did he hesitate to share these dreams openly with family? He knew those ideas would clash with those of his father, and he did not wish to face the perceived consequences of going against his father’s aspirations for his life: stable job, steady income, hopefully doing something he likes.

There is nothing wrong with having a clear worldview, even if it conflicts on some level with others in the family, in my opinion. However, this can be problematic when it starts to take away from healthy trusting connection with others, especially in terms of what it means to live a happy, successful life. All children and youth, from toddlers to adulthood, need someone they feel ease in bouncing new ideas off of, and who they will receive thoughtful feedback from. This feedback does not need to support every idea as equal and fantastic, but rather provides needed perspective and wisdom coming from a place of caring and experience.

When a youth or young adult has a trusted person (or people) to have important direction-finding discussions with, the stage is set for positive change to occur. Keeping in mind that there are very few people in the world satisfied with having too little direction in their lives, an exploration of likes, loves, and talents can lead to discovering exciting possibilities for anyone, young and old alike. Though I could provide a long list of questions to ask, one the best questions to begin with could be this one:

“What would you like to create in your life, if there were no rules and you could do it with a snap of your fingers?”