Not sure how to talk to your teen about their career? You’re not alone.
Research shows that parents are the most significant influence on their child’s career decisions, which puts a lot of pressure on you to get it right. But talking to your teen about their career isn’t easy – they may avoid the conversation or just flat out refuse to engage, which can leave you feeling out in the dark and unsure.
We’ve spent a long time talking to teens about careers, so our career counselling expert Lucy Sattler has put together some tips to help you navigate those tricky conversations.
Lucy says “it’s really important to stay calm and remember that it’s their future we’re talking about (not yours), and the evidence shows that they’re probably going to make a sensible decision if you let them make it in their own time. Here are my top 11 tips for friction-free conversations about careers with your teen:
They don’t need to have an answer
It’s normal for them to still explore and take some time to try things out, even after they’ve left school, and there are systems there to help them if they change their mind.
Focus on what they want to do next, not what they want to do forever
Adults have a habit of falling into good opportunities, and keeping an open mind about where you want to end up can help you be flexible enough to jump on opportunities when they arise. There’s actually a whole theory called the ‘Chaos Theory of Career Development’ that explains this is completely normal and expected.
Focus on their strengths
What are they doing well at school, what do they enjoy doing in their free time, how could they take the next step in that direction. This doesn’t always need to be towards a specific job, for example if your child loves soccer that doesn’t mean she should begin working towards a career as a professional soccer player, but she could start looking for coaching and refereeing jobs, or volunteer to train the younger grades. These kinds of things will give her skills that she can use in a range of different career paths, and also teaches her that she can explore pathway without a set goal in mind.
Micro-conversations are where you’ll find the good stuff
Make the most of those 5 minutes you share eating breakfast together, or on the way to the supermarket, and take the time to talk about your work and how it is going rather than always focusing on their choices.
They learn from you
Kids learn a lot about work from their parents, so share stories and observations from your own experiences, but while you’re doing that be mindful that you don’t give them a skewed view of work. It can be tempting to vent at home, but if you’re always talking about how hard work is and how stressed you are, or how annoying your boss is, then that could begin to influence their expectations of what their own workplaces will look like.
Big conversations can sometimes feel a little awkward, so you (and them) may feel more comfortable talking side by side, rather than face to face. Try going for a walk outside, or take a drive together; I take my teen out for a sneaky ice cream without the others.
Try not to panic if they come up with anything that you think is a ‘bad’ idea; sometimes they’ll just need to say things out loud to test them, and other times what may start out sounding a little crazy may end up being the perfect solution. Keep an open mind and avoid giving any opinions (positive or negative) without first giving yourself a chance to calm down.
They’re already under pressure
Teenagers already put themselves under enough pressure, so avoid nagging them to make a decision if they’re not ready. Research shows that the vast majority of young people are more sensible, reliable, and concerned about securing their future than parents or teachers give them credit for, but if they feel pressured they can often ‘clam up’. If you feel like you’re starting to pester them, go back to micro-conversations and talking side-by-side for a while.
Let them choose the topic
Military interrogators often use silence as a technique to get their subject speaking because as humans we naturally want to fill any awkward silence, and you can use this to you advantage. As long as they’re not distracted (i.e., pick a social media free time and place), they’ll look for topics to talk about and you can use that as a starting point.
Short and informal is better than long and planned
Formal, planned conversations can feel weird, so avoid them and stick to shorter, less formal but equally valuable conversations wherever possible. If you need to have a formal conversation take it outside and go for a walk so you’re side-by-side, not face to face.
Ask open-ended questions
One last tip – ask ‘open’ questions and avoid questions with easy yes/no answers. If you ask an open-ended question and get a closed answer (“it was good”), ask them a why question – (“why was it good?”) You’re not always going to win, but open-ended questions give both of you more room to move, and if you build a habit of letting them talk and while you really listen (without judgement) to their answers you’ll build trust.