Help kids learn to make their own decisions

By Susan Pohorski

One of the strongest pressures young people face in middle and high school is peer pressure. No wonder they graduate from high school and don’t know what they want to do with their lives. They’ve been doing what everyone else wants to do for so long, they never learn what they really want or like as individuals. 

A mother told me about her son’s choice to take a cooking class because all his friends were taking the class and that would make it fun. She tried to convince him to choose something else that might also be fun. 

How do we get our children to find out what they like to do and what is fun for them apart from their peer group? Engage them in conversation about their experiences. “What did you do in school today?” is only the beginning of that conversation. More important is to ask:

  • “What did you like about it?”
  • “What was fun about it?”
  • “What did you learn?” 

Most students when presented with science, technology, engineering and math would not be interested or say that these subjects are fun. However, combine these subjects into a group project that produces something students can manipulate and master and it becomes fun. That’s what La Crosse area middle and high school students are discovering with robots in their classrooms. 

“Fun is especially important in the middle school years,” said Deb Hether, K-12 relations manager for Western Technical College. 

Ten years ago Jon Burman, a Western instructor, started a pilot program using robots. He trained teachers from four schools, gave them robots and curriculum to use. Some used it in their classrooms, others formed after school clubs. Later in the school year, Burman invited the teachers to bring their students to the college for a competition. 

“They use a computer to do programming,” Hether explains. “It’s like video games. It’s right up their alley.” And, it’s fun. 

The program has been very successful and has spread to 16 schools. Not all these students will become engineers or computer programmers, but they all learn something about STEM, and about themselves. 

“It is empowering to find out you like something and are good at doing it,” Hether added. “Even if you don’t like it, that’s OK. It is just as important to find out what you don’t like.” 

Western exposes students to careers in manufacturing through several events. Students spend a day exploring electronics, welding, lean business practices, machine tool production and mechanical design. Company representatives tell them about what job opportunities connected with these skills. 

Has your child had an opportunity like that to explore various skills and the careers associated with them? Be sure to talk with them afterwards. Help them identify their reactions, feelings and interests. 

When the time comes to sign up for classes encourage your child to try something new. Give them an opportunity to choose for themselves and withhold judgment. Support them in their decision and engage them in conversation about the experience. You both may be surprised at what you find out. 

“Some of my son’s friends are studying nursing in college,” Hether said. “I would have never expected that of these particular boys.” 

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