Caveats on Career Advice for Kids

Parents, dish out that guidance carefully — and try a new way of coaching and counseling instead

by Jon Beaty | Updated 20 Jun 2016 at 6:00 AM

Be careful about giving career advice to your kids. A parent’s expectations for a child’s career choice carries a lot of weight. Your influence may lead your kids to choose a career that pleases you, even if it’s not their first choice. Or they may choose a career against your wishes, just to spite you.

It will take several years for kids to find a place in the world where they feel like they’re making a positive contribution.

I had no influence or guidance from my parents on my career choice. I found my way through trial and error. My high-school yearbook identifies me as an aspiring graphic designer. My freshman year at college, I enrolled as a recreation major (there is such a thing). Then I switched to physical education.

I graduated with a major in clinical social work.

After college, finding a job that felt like a good fit was as challenging as choosing a major.

I don’t want my kids to go through the same kind of trial and error that I did. It’s frustrating, discouraging, and expensive. I could easily overcompensate by giving my kids concrete direction on their career choice. I know them well and have some ideas about what jobs would suit them.

But I’ve held back from telling my kids what I think they should do. Instead, I’ve decided to coach and counsel them.

Once your child is old enough to take an interest in the world outside their home, it’s a good time to help them explore. It will take several years for them to find a place in the world where they feel like they’re making a positive contribution. The best motivation you can give them is to patiently encourage their exploration, and give them access to resources that will help them make informed choices.

Related: When We Push Our Kids to Excel

Here’s what my wife and I have done with our daughter, who’s now 20 and continuing to consider her options, and what we’re still doing with our 13-year-old son.

1.) Introduce them to career options. Documentaries and books about different occupations provided a great place to start with both of my kids.

Animal documentaries and story books fascinated my daughter when she was younger. They inspired her interest in becoming a veterinarian. My son enjoys documentaries and books about building things. The public library is a great source for borrowing documentary videos, non-fiction and fiction books on various vocations.

We’ve also watched television shows and documentaries that take viewers behind the scenes of various jobs. We loved watching “Dirty Jobs” — it’s now available for streaming on iTunes, Amazon.com, and Google Play.

When our kids hear us complain about work, they’re likely to develop a similar attitude.

It’s been fun to talk with my kids about what they’ve learned and what interests they’ve discovered.

2.) Encourage them to explore career options that interest them. My wife arranged for my daughter to visit the workplaces of people whose jobs interested her.  This can often be arranged by making a few phone calls to local places of business and asking if your child can observe for a few hours or an afternoon. Some businesses offer field trips for schools, clubs, and small groups. For example, my daughter visited a veterinary clinic and watched a surgery on a dog. My son toured a bread bakery.

Later, when my daughter showed interest serving as a nurse in a third-world country, I took her to Kenya where she could give wound care under the supervision of a volunteer medical team serving Maasai tribespeople. Volunteer opportunities provide excellent exposure to career options.

My son is showing interest in operating an excavator. While he’s a little young to operate heavy equipment, I’ve given him chores that involve operating a small tractor I rented.

3.) Encourage a positive attitude toward work. When our kids hear us complain about work, they’re likely to develop a similar attitude. Focusing on the negative trains our brain to look for the negative.

Related: Why Gifted Kids Can Slip Through the Cracks

I’ve cultivated positive emotions about my work, such as gratitude, curiosity, and satisfaction, and shared that with my kids. I’ve talked about how the work I do contributes toward a greater purpose. I’ve told them about my accomplishments, big and small.

I’ve also taught my kids that God designed us to work. He instructed Adam and Eve to tend the Garden of Eden. He commanded that His people work for six days before resting on the seventh. And the Bible also teaches that we should work as if we’re working for God Himself (Colossians 3:23).

A child’s ability to express positive emotions in their work, apply meaning to their work, and appreciate even their smallest achievements will help them flourish in whatever vocation they choose. Knowing that God has an interest in their work will inspire them to pursue excellence.

Jon Beaty, life coach and father of two, lives near Portland, Oregon. He’s the author of the book “If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying: 7 Habits for Thriving in Your Faith, Relationships, and Work.”

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