As a caring parent, it’s only natural that you want your child to have a rich and fulfilling life. No matter what age they are, you are likely to occasionally think about what they may be like as they reach adulthood, and how their personality and interests will help to inform their ambitions. As they start to learn more about themselves, they will join you in these thoughts, from that first concept of what they want to be when they grow up, to making solid career plans as they navigate through school, and transition to university or working life.
The considerations regarding career paths are not always easy for your child or teenager to traverse. Indecision about where to apply their focus is not unusual. Not to mention that if they do have an idea of a career they’d like to explore, the route is often fraught with challenges they need to overcome. This is where you can be a vital source of support for them.
So, how can you empower them to discover and follow their personal career journey? Let’s examine the issue from the perspective of different stages in their young lives.
Your child’s interest in jobs will usually start early. Indeed, one study found that children from the age of 7 tended to have realistic aspirations rather than those that are fantasy-based. That said, there are generally going to be several ideas that they’ll have about what they want to do when they’re older during this period. While each of these is likely to be transient, you can help them best by encouraging their curiosity and helping them to understand a little more about the occupation, and what it takes to get there. This doesn’t mean that you should pressure them to set in a solid course for a single career. Rather, you’re demonstrating to them that there is largely no career idea that they have that is out of reach, but that there are challenges to overcome along the way.
This should not just be focused on specific career information alone. You should encourage them to explore a range of activities. Too often, parents are reluctant to sign kids up for activities because they feel that their child may quickly lose interest. Yet, this serves an important purpose — it gives them exposure to subject matter in a way that can help both you and them better understand where their passions lie. You can then use this as a stepping stone toward identifying potential career directions for them to explore. This might not be as direct as turning their hobby into a business, but rather matching the types of skills and tasks they enjoy with occupations that interest them.
Secondary school is usually the time when there is increased focus on your child’s path toward a career. This is when they’ll usually be expected to start making decisions about what qualifications they want to shoot towards, and they’ll also have meetings with a careers guidance officer. Perhaps the most important thing you need to assert to your child at this stage is that they do not have to make hard-and-fast decisions. They need to know that it’s not only natural to be uncertain, but also that it is never too late to change their mind. They have a lot of pressure on them — reassurance is one of your best dad tools.
If they express interest in a certain career area, you can help them to explore this further. Reach out to organizations that operate in those fields to see if you can arrange visits or if they have open days. Remember that the internet is a powerful tool for connectivity, and leaders in most fields have some kind of web presence. Encourage your teenager to safely reach out — via email or social media — and start conversations with those in their intended area of work.
Remember too that traditional career paths are not always appropriate. Your child might have an interest in a certain field from the perspective of being an entrepreneur rather than a worker. Help them to open a small weekend business; this could be washing cars, mowing gardens — anything that gets them working. Talk them through setting up a business plan, and understanding the importance of creating a realistic budget. They should also know what the legal responsibilities of the company might be, and how to go about both identifying target customers and invoicing them once the work is complete. This type of practical experience can illustrate the challenges involved, but also spark their passion for entrepreneurship.
Sixth Form and Beyond
If your teenager is dedicated to a career path and has started their sixth form education, one of your roles is to help them navigate making their young ambitions an adult reality. Certain careers may not strictly require a degree, but it can be worth encouraging them to explore why obtaining one might give them a competitive advantage in their chosen field, or elevate their skill set to make them a more valuable candidate for work. International work and school are increasingly accessible, too, so it can be helpful to show them how universities in Europe and the U.S. often include attractive internship opportunities as part of their programs, giving them practical and theoretical experience.
Alongside the exciting prospect of university and work opportunities, the practical aspects of this can be overwhelming. This can be particularly difficult when it comes to financing their degree, and how they will afford to live away from home. Assist them in investigating sources of education funding — there may be some that are loans or grants aimed at their socioeconomic demographic, or even their chosen career in the form of scholarships from businesses. It is also important to back this up by giving them a practical understanding of how to create and maintain a budget while they’re at university. With knowledge of how to keep track of their income and outgoings, and plan ahead, they can gain the confidence to explore their career path with a sense of independence.
Career development is a subject that you can support your child through at various stages of their life. Often this is about understanding where they are on their journey, and how to provide a combination of practical information and emotional support. Perhaps the most important impact you can have is through empowering your child to follow their curiosity and discover what really resonates with them.