When it comes to planning for the future, whether that’s college, trade or technical school, the workforce, homemaking, or some other option, many parents ask: How can I assist my child in deciding which educational or professional path to pursue?
If you think back to your child’s younger years, can you recall what their first ambitions were? Chances are, what they wanted to be when they grew up was probably something like “astronaut,” “fireman/woman,” or “prince(ss).” Or, perhaps it was your career and they were only desiring to follow in your footsteps!
It’s only natural for a young person to want to pursue many different ideas and options. But what happens when our children reach adolescence and still have no notion of what they want to do with their lives?
Here are some thoughts on how you can help your children choose a career:
1. Navigate the Adolescent Transition
Have you ever wondered why teenagers have such a hard time making decisions? Science explains that this because the pre-frontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making, undergoes extensive remodeling during adolescence in order to become more efficient.
This process “prunes away” unwanted connections while boosting others.
Because the prefrontal cortex is last to be remodeled (and often doesn’t fully happen until the age of 25)!, teenagers may have to rely on their amygdala for decision-making — the area of the brain is also involved with emotions, impulses, and instinctual behavior. As a result, they may find it difficult to plan and consider the repercussions of their actions.
Because of this, some may argue that it doesn’t quite make sense that teens are asked to make such major decisions when these critical portions of their brains are still growing.
Even so, these are choices that need to happen. And depending on the seriousness of the choice, it can have an impact on the rest of their lives! (The gravity of this is not lost on teens!)
Most young people want the opportunity to grow and see a range of opportunities; however, some of these options are limited based on resources or availability, and sometimes learning to limit and channel your focus is a part of the process.
2. Educate Your Children On Available Options
There are more employment alternatives open to young people than ever before. While this can be a positive, as there are so many positions and available to teens today, this can also easily lead to choice overload or paralysis.
Before asking your child, “What do you want to do?” start by offering them options. Or, better yet, engage them in conversation based on the things they are the most passionate about. (This way you aren’t pushing them unintentionally in one direction or another!)
Ask them their thoughts on attending college, starting a family, or heading straight into the workforce. As they explore, help them browse different options, or volunteer alongside them so that they can experience different environments. In fact, volunteering can be a great addition when planning for work or college applications! (For example, a recent recipient of the University of Chicago’s Young Alumni Service Award, Dustin Popiel, is proof of this!)
You can also try to facilitate a job shadowing opportunity (with you or someone else) so they can get a feel of what different workspaces are really like.
And most of all, help them research options of anything they’re considering. For example, colleges like Stautzenberger College offer a website where you can check out programs, email professors, and even speak with other current students.
3. Help Your Child Set Career Goals
As a parent, you play a fundamental and invaluable role in helping your children choose a career. However, before your child can pinpoint a direction (as far as job, college, or future plans), he or she will need to set goals.
Again, help your child consider his/her passions or areas of interest. If your daughter loves animals, perhaps a goal can be related to animal care, wellness, or advocacy. If your son is passionate about sports, maybe he is looking to train for a collegiate athlete opportunity.
Regardless of your child’s area of interest, setting goals helps to move from dream to action.
What Can Parents Do To Help?
If your child is looking at the collegiate route, help them find colleges that offer thinking skills/and or focus on adapting to circumstances. These skill areas not only assist your child’s brain growth, but they also support effective decision-making abilities (“soft skills”) that are honestly what contemporary employers are looking for.
An institution with a well-established and engaged careers section is also worth considering, as it will assist students in better understanding their interests, abilities, and beliefs, as well as how these areas transfer to occupations that they are interested in.
Remind your child that by selecting one choice now, they are not committing to a single role for the remainder of their careers. They’ve just chosen to acquire a set of abilities and expertise that they can use towards different jobs in the future, whether it’s shifting their concentration, position, the industry they operate in, or the product they deal with.
When possible, encouraging your children to find relevant job experience or internships. This will help them build their drive, determination, and employability skills, as well as help them understand the type of career they could enjoy (or not!).
And, of course, don’t forget that at the end of the day, everyone’s identity, development, and pressures are different. Just because your child hasn’t figured out his or her future, doesn’t mean that their behind.
As a parent, your job is to guide your children to choose a career and reassuring them wherever they are in the process.
It may also help to talk to an expert to learn about options and best options for your child.
You can learn about our Consultation Services here.