People start asking kids “What do you want to be when you grow up?” almost as soon as kids can talk. And I can go on about how that contributes to the devaluation of childhood and the pressure we put kids under. But that isn’t actually my topic for today. I want to talk about how to help your child pick a career and plan for their future.
For every person, there comes a time when they need to start thinking about life beyond school and what they want their adult life to look like. Typically, around age 16 or their junior year of high school is a good time to start thinking about this if they haven’t already. And there is tons of advice out there about how to choose a career path. But advice like “do what you love” is vague and may not really help your teen chose a life path. I love eating chocolate, but I don’t actually want to be a chocolate taster. That would be too much of a good thing for me.
So, here are some practical points of discussion for your teen once they have a career or two they are considering. Or, if you are considering a career change, consider them for yourself.
What kind of education does it require?
Most jobs require some level of training or education. Looking into the requirements for your shortlist of careers is an important part of deciding if this is the right path for you. Some people love college and will happily go for as many years as it takes to get the education needed for their careers. But many of us won’t.
If your student has a job they are interested in, be sure to research how many years of higher education are required. Do you have to do an internship? Is this a path they are comfortable with? If you research early, they may be able to find something else that fits their interests with an education plan that aligns with their needs. In some fields, you may be able to work with the right associate’s degree, while others require a doctorate. Knowing which one you are working towards, can help you decide ahead of time whether to start down the long path of a four-year college or not.
What do they actually do all day?
If possible, set up a time for your student to shadow someone in their chosen field for a day. Being a research scientist might sound exciting, but in reality, be very boring. Sometimes, jobs have a lot of parts that aren’t common knowledge. If you make some phone calls, you may be able to find people willing to let your student tag along for a day. Seeing the ins and outs of a job up close can really shed light on what a typical day is like.
What will you wear?
Look at people who do this job. Do you want to wear those clothes and shoes each day? As a woman, I chose to not go into several fields because I didn’t want to wear high heels. I opted for a career that wears tennis shoes and scrubs (which are incredibly comfortable). Some jobs require protective equipment, a uniform, or wearing dress clothes each day. Even if your job doesn’t require a uniform, you will still be expected to dress to conform. Be sure you can do it.
Do you like the people?
Meet some people who do this job. Do you like them? They will be your co-workers. Do you want to work with them? If you feel like “these aren’t my people” you may want to consider a different job. Getting along with your peers will make any career path better.
Will you be able to pay your bills?
Yes, you should consider how much this job pays. If you will have to go into debt to get the degree, will you make enough to pay back your loans? If you have several areas of interest, considering the pay scale may help you decide. Jobs often don’t pay what we think they should, so doing research is important. Several 3-year degrees pay better than a college professor makes. Years of education don’t equal money in the real world.
Don’t forget, Adulthood is Long and the Future is Wide Open
The world your teen will be an adult in will be different than the world you are currently an adult in. It is possible that they will end up in a career that doesn’t even exist yet. I know many adults who are doing work now that there wasn’t and an industry or college path for when they were teenagers. This idea can be overwhelming, but the important takeaway here is to keep an open mind and look for ways to build a wide set of skills.
About the Author
Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.