Dear Career Doctor:
My 20 year old son still can’t decide what he wants to do. He only spent one semester at college,then flunked due to missing school. He just dropped out of the Culinary Institute, because he isn’t certain he wants to be a chef. The military looks doubtful. Maybe he’ll go back to college to be a teacher, but I don’t know if he’s college material. He feels bad that he isn’t working or doing anything, and his depression is getting me down too.
When a young person like this is referred to me, I usually want the following issues explored before I begin vocational counseling:
1. Is there a drug or alcohol problem? This causes a lot of kids to lose their motivation, oversleep and not go to class. If you have any doubts, you can get home urine test kits. That may sound extreme, but if you suspect that your child has this problem, it is in his best interest that you learn the truth and get the right help.
2. Are there unrecognized learning disabilities? Many bright kids have learning disabilities that keep them from being able to read and retain enough material to stay in college. Sometimes these kids get good grades early on in school until the reading/writing workload overwhelms them. Sometimes they have always struggled with school work. If this might be the case, have a psychologist test for learning issues and get remedial help.
3. Does you son have a clinical depression? You say he is depressed, and if that is the case, medication can help. If he seems hopeless or helpless or sad most of the time, you should have a consultation with a psychiatrist who can prescribe an anti-depressant.
If you think that his problem is non-of-the-above, get him to a vocational counselor who will help him figure out a good career path. I have worked with young people who did well in college once they decided what they wanted to do: they suddenly became motivated when doing schoolwork seemed to have a purpose. On the other hand, there are many careers that do not require college degrees, yet offer good pay and security. Vocational tests/counseling can help your son sort this out.