What do you do if your child does not want to go to university next year?

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Allowing children the autonomy to be who they choose to be can be hard.

The year is heading to an end, and the class of 2020 have completed their final exams. This year has been a whirlwind for them like it has been for a lot of other people, but the big question for them looms: what next?

Some students have an entire 12-year plan set up, including what they want to become when they grow up and where they would like to make those goals come true.

Some don’t. The achievement of passing matric is enough for them.

But as a parent, you want to see your child treading a very traditional path. Furthering one’s studies at a university is the only option they have. We want this because we would also like to brag to our friends about how well our children are doing. Be honest.

The reality is that this is not always the path young people take.

Others would rather choose to take a gap year and figure their lives out. They would also prefer working and earning an income rather than committing themselves to three or four more years of formal education. Others even decide to pursue less traditional studies like music or drama or anything artistic.

The decision is a difficult one for a young person. It is even more difficult to make with the added pressure of possibly disappointing your family.

Psychologist Benedict Mhlongo considers this stage a rite of passage for a lot of young people. It is a stage of asserting one’s individuality by making decisions and bearing the consequences.

“This is at the backdrop of matriculants who prefer the less commonly travelled road such as taking a gap year or seeking employment as opposed to seeking traditional university routes.”

The result? Mounting frustration from the parents.

“Parents need to understand that confusion or anxiety, post-matric, needs to be acknowledged as them asserting autonomy in their identity.”

My own experience was not short of anxiety. The one moment I was applying for legal studies, then politics the next.

The post-matric stage should not only be about studying a course that would benefit you financially. We are at a time where we are learning about the importance of mental health. Self-fulfilment and actualisation should be a bigger priority for parents. We do not want to have kids stuck in positions that are making them a lot of money but yet they are extremely unhappy.

We also cannot have kids changing courses every two years because they did not want to be there in the first place.

WATCH: How the matric Rage parties turned into super-spreader events

A lot of students also opt to secure work after matric to help with the financial situation at home. If the parents are struggling, they will feel it is their responsibility to change that. For them, it is more instant than studying for four more years, and potentially struggling to get a job afterwards.

If, as a parent, you are struggling with this decision, Mhlongo suggests you encourage your child to write down their goals and plans for the year. It will help make them accountable for their decisions, and maintain their focus.

Allowing our children the autonomy to be who they choose to be can be hard. It is, however, something we not only have to learn but accept.

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