Put Your Daughters and Sons to Work

How much influence do parents have on their teenagers’ career choices? A great deal, according to researchers.

“The parents of adolescents,” according to a Purdue University article on Parental Involvement in Career Development, “are uniquely positioned to influence a young person’s career aspirations and development.”

The paper, published in Career Development Quarterly, cites several studies that underscore the impact parents have on adolescent career choices. Positive parenting includes guiding your child’s career search. But how can you deliberately influence your kids to make good career decisions?

Bring Them To Work

It’s a good idea to expose your children to the world of work, from an early age if possible. When you bring them to your workplace, let them see you working in your home office, or take them to visit adult friends and relatives in professional environments, you are giving them a framework to visualize themselves “at work” as they get older. It’s easier for them to envision a career as an architect, for instance, if they’ve seen Mom or Uncle Al’s architectural office. This is one reason kids often follow in their parent’s footsteps — because it’s easy to visualize themselves doing something that they’ve seen others do.

Challenge Them To Dream

When we ask children what they want to be when they grow up, they tend to give the same familiar answers over and over: firefighter, teacher, veterinarian. Invite them to dream by asking more specific questions. Would they enjoy a career that lets them travel to different countries? If they could design household items, what would they change? Are they interested in finding cures for illnesses? Or learning more about the stars? Do they enjoy leading others? Bring up some careers they see in movies and television but may not have thought of for themselves, like judge, senator, marine biologist, surgeon, or archeologist.

Help Them Explore Their Interests and Strengths

The downloadable booklet Career Explorations for Teens from insidejobs.com suggests asking open-ended questions to help your teen explore her interests. If your child had the opportunity to create her own television program, for instance, what would it be about? In his ideal job, would your teen be working in an office, or outdoors, or on a boat? Would he be alone, or would there be lots of other people around him? A great fill-in-the-blank question: When my friends need help with ______, they come to me. 

Research Together

In the internet age, researching careers is easier than ever before. The Occupational Outlook Handbook has been used by guidance counselors for decades, and is now accessible online. Careers.org is another good place to begin. A good parenting option is to let your student take ownership of her career search by asking her to research several options and bring the information to you for discussion. She will be much more engaged this way than if you do all the research and present the information to her. 

Encourage Active Exploration

If your child is showing an interest in a specific area, help him find opportunities for hands-on participation. Look for volunteer opportunities, internships, or part-time jobs within a career field. Be creative — if your son is interested in becoming a museum curator, maybe he could volunteer as a docent. If your daughter is interested in a career in politics, help her apply to be a page for one of her state representatives.  

If you’d like to extend a strong wellness-relationship parenting bond with your child into adulthood, you’ll need to become comfortable with the role of advisor to your adolescent. Guiding your children and being a resource for them, while letting them discover their choices, will be a strong first step in this new era of your relationship.