PARENTS
09/03/2019 16:55 EDT | Updated 09/04/2019 11:52 EDT

When Helping Kids Pick Careers, Don't Make These Common Mistakes

Sorry, but parents don't always know best.

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Remember that career paths aren't always straight paths these days.

It’s common for adults to ask children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Most kids have such a limited experience of the world that they tend to default to the jobs of the adults they admire, such as a teacher, a bus driver, or even an NHL hockey player. 

I once asked my daughter the question, to which she answered, “When I grow up I want to be a giraffe,” so clearly I asked the question way too early. 

Of course, as our kids actually begin to grow up, we do start to get a bit more eager about plotting their trajectory towards a future occupation. We want to share all our great wisdom and help them with decision making. 

More so now than in the past, parents are taking an active role in helping their children choose their career path and the educational requirements to get there. They are also starting earlier than ever before.

WATCH: Parents think kids should start on career path by age five. Story continues below.

Perhaps our career enthusiasm, if we can call it that, is just another of many examples of how parents today are more involved in all aspect of their children’s lives compared to past generations. Perhaps some of the pressure parents feel is due to a looming sense that good opportunities are scarce and there is high competition for choice spots. 

Our parental counsel and advice is intended to be wise and helpful, but maybe we need to stop and ask ourselves, “What do we really know about this subject area?” Probably less than we think.  

“Parents want the best for their children, but their idea of ‘best’ doesn’t always align with what the young adult both prefers and, in some cases, needs,” life strategist Lori Stephenson of My Big Sky, whose company specializes in helping young adults plan and transition into careers, told HuffPost Canada.

In fact, Stephenson has identified four common mistakes that many parents make when trying to offer sage counsel to their young adult as they make career choices. 

1. Thinking what worked for them will work for their kids

It’s easy for parents to mistakenly think that their kids are cut from the same cloth as them. So, if we like our career and it worked out well for us, why not follow in mom or dad’s footsteps?

Stephenson suggests this can be limiting advice.

“We are all unique individuals. We have our own interests, motivators and needs and when we overlay ours onto our kids, we limit their options. We take the control away from them to guide and direct their own lives,” she said.

2. Pressuring for a clear end-point too early

Parents forget that the journey to discovering your best occupation is more tangential and often requires several stepping stone jobs or careers along the way.

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Too soon to declare this child a doctor, probably.

Stephenson suggests that we modify the scope of the choices at this stage.

“No one needs to declare what they are going to do for the rest of their life. They simply need to answer what would they like to try next based on their learning so far. It’s unlikely that there will be one perfect ‘best’ life career.”   

3. Prioritizing income over interests and motivators

While we all want our children to be financially set for life, an over-focus on monetary returns can be shortsighted.

“When we focus our work and careers from a point of interests and capabilities, we work harder and as a result see more success. There are many ways to be rewarded and compensated, and these recent generations are motivated a bit differently. We need to be mindful that we aren’t putting our own value set on them,” Stephenson said.

4.  Wanting them to go to the best school

Often, we mistakenly think that the schools with the best reputation or that are recognized as being the top in their field are the best places to enrol. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Instead, we have to look at best fit.

Stephenson recommends that each student’s individual preferences be the drivers.

“The more they understand their unique needs, learning styles and overall emotional readiness, the more confident they can be in choosing a school environment or career direction that is ‘best’ for them,” she said.