Help your children figure out what THEY want to do when they grow up — not what YOU want them to do.
Have you had “the talk” with your kids yet? About the “s” word?
You know: salary.
Occupational discussions start at home — in fact, with you. “Many students don’t really know what their parents do or they can’t really explain it if I ask,” says Tia Filippelli, head counselor at West Seattle High School.
By talking about a typical day at the office or in the field, the work environment (including co-workers and bosses), or even bringing a child into work, kids gain insight on how their caregiver brings home a paycheck.
Parents are all over the map when it comes to direction, Filippelli says — some parents try to control college choices and career options, while others are completely uninvolved.
Take career conversations slowly and gently, and follow your child’s curiosity and maturity level, says Matt Youngquist, founder and counselor at Career Horizons in Bellevue.
“The question everybody needs to figure out is why they work and what specific wants, needs and priorities they want their career to satisfy for them,” Youngquist says. Motivators can include money, power, fame, authority, perhaps contribution to the greater good or flexibility to pursue side passions.
Parents dealing with daily challenges like mortgages and funding retirement tend to assume children are motivated by similar priorities — which is rarely the case.
“Try to avoid projecting your own desires onto your kids. Instead, give them the space to figure out what their underlying motivations are when it comes to work — and to follow them,” Youngquist says.
Passion vs. practicality
Unrealistic career expectations are common. “For example, there are a lot of ‘professional athlete’ choices, or ‘doctor’ choices when the student really doesn’t like science courses,” Filippelli says. “Money is a large motivator for many students when they first start exploring and narrowing down their choices.”
In cases like this, encourage kids to explore and pursue alternative options, Filippelli says. Parents “shouldn’t dismiss their child’s passion, as it could potentially hurt the relationship with their child, but they could encourage them to explore more choices,” she says.
In the schools, counselors have teens take interest inventories, then search out career information to better understand the benefits and challenges of those fields. “The hope is to help them make more informed decisions in regards to the careers they are thinking about pursuing,” Filippelli says.
Parents can help with this exploration by reaching out to friends who work in a field similar to one that interests the child. Schedule a conversation or interview, Filippelli suggests, or even a job shadow.
“If a young person already has a potential career avenue in mind, or is open to getting exposed to some different possibilities, the sky’s the limit in terms of what can be arranged today with a little proactive effort and social media skill,” Youngquist says.
Not knowing is OK
But it’s also normal for teens to be unsure about their future profession. “Very few young adults have a clear sense of what they want to be when they grow up,” Youngquist says, and notes that studies show that many happy, satisfied professionals fell into their careers without a clear game plan.
As someone who meets with midlife clients, Youngquist notes that some feel they’ve wasted their lives in uninspiring careers they didn’t enjoy but paid the bills. Yet some career choices will mean trade-offs in terms of comfort and financial stability.
“Early on in life, I think people have plenty of time to try things, make a few mistakes and rebound,” he says. “The key is to observe what a young person naturally enjoys doing and what they’re good at, and see if they can make a living out of it. If not, and they eventually need to settle down and run with a more practical option, fair enough.
“The world definitely needs artists and sociologists, too,” Youngquist says. “Not just computer programmers.”