If you’re struggling to start the conversation with your young person about what they want to do once school is over, then you’re not alone. Knowing what to say is tricky, and there could be consequences if you get it wrong, but the evidence shows that parents are the most trusted source of information and advice when teens are trying to choose a post-school pathway.
In this article we’ve taken a look at what you should (and probably shouldn’t) say, when you should say it, and how to know if your teen may need outside help to make their choices.
Tell them about your work
Share your experiences in the workplace, both past and present, and allow your teen to assimilate your experiences into what they already know about the world of work. They may not always look like they’re listening, so talk with others around you about your work, and ask them about theirs, in a place where your teens can listen in as they choose.
It’s important to talk about more than just the big picture things – tell them about the kinds of things that take up your time in a day, the things that annoy you, and the things that you like the best. They need to know about the good, as well as the not so good, so they can build realistic expectations about what work will be like.
Keep your opinions to yourself (where you can)
Your teen is the one who will have to turn up every day, so their career needs to meet their needs, not your expectations. They may see things differently to you, and that’s totally ok, so if you have an opinion about what they should do, or don’t like the path they’ve chosen, try to see things from their point of view.
Even if you can’t agree with their choices look for the positives, and avoid sharing overly negative opinions with your teen. You’re unlikely to make them change their intended course, but you could knock their confidence and make them second guess themselves.
Try to remember that things have changed a lot in the last five to ten years, and your child is entering a very different workforce than the one you entered. Respect their choices, and offer positive encouragement and a listening ear when needed.
Get them to think outside the box
If your teen is struggling to come up with ideas, then there are ways you can help. Encourage them to think outside of the most obvious jobs like teacher, engineer, or dentist, as many people work in jobs which are less well known.
There are literally thousands of jobs out there, and it’s impossible to know much about most of them, but knowing that there are thousands of options can relieve the pressure to choose something obvious. Encourage your teen to ask people in your circle about their work experiences, and focus on the way they got to where they are – many adults have taken a less than obvious path to their current job, and it’s good for young people to know there are many roads that all lead to good places.
Release the pressure
If your teen is allergic to talking about their career then take the pressure off – the reality is that they don’t really have to pick anything until school is over, and even then, there are ways that they can learn about the world of work before jumping in.
Giving them breathing space can be a really good thing – for example, the evidence shows that students who take a Gap Year between school and further education are more likely to finish their degree and achieve higher marks.
If your teen doesn’t know what to do then encourage them to find a path they’re interested in for now, and see where it leads them – ask them to just take things one step at a time and think about what they want to do next, rather than what they want to do with their entire career. If they have the marks and want to go to university but aren’t sure what to study, encourage them to find a course they’re interested in and not worry so much about the possible career paths – once they’re further along the track new career opportunities will open up.
When should I talk to my teen about their career?
Whenever they are ready.
If it seems like they’re never ready, then that’s ok too – they will be at some point. Rather than asking them scary questions about what they want to do with their life, answer any questions they may have when they crop up and let them think through their options.
When your teen is ready to talk, let them speak about the things they want for their future. They’ll go through a process of imagining what their possible future selves may look like, so let them talk it through, and if they go off on a tangent for a while then let them pursue it – chances are they’ll think more deeply when things get serious as the end of school draws closer.
When do I need to seek professional careers advice for my child?
In my opinion, professional career advice is useful even if your child knows exactly what they want to do once they leave school – they can have their ideas reviewed, and the professional may be able to suggest some pathways that you and your child may not have thought of.
Your child’s school may be able to offer time with their in-school Careers Advisor, so check to see if you can book a meeting with them for a chat.
Mental health professionals and youth counsellors will also be able to provide some support, and there are professional Careers Advisors who would be more than happy to help you and your child work through their options before school is over.
Just one takeaway
If you get one new idea out of this article then make it this – let your teen guide the conversation. There is no one who is more concerned about their future than they are, even if they say they don’t care, but they need a safe, welcoming space to be able to share their ideas without fear of judgement. They are still at the very beginning of the process, and exploring all their options, even the crazy ones, will help them feel in control of the decision they need to make.
Gabrielle Bowen and Eliza Kidd, 2017, “Career Guidance: The Missing Link in School to Work Transitions”
Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training, 2018, “Unique Individuals, Broad Skills: Inquiry into School to Work Transition”