I have two teenagers in high school. I had this perfect plan to help them explore new opportunities and career aspirations. Each week, they would pick a “career” to check out, google, and share. At dinner, we’d discuss what they picked, learned, and if it they were interested in exploring further.
You’re a parent trying to figure out how to help your teenager begin thinking about his/her future.
They haven’t expressed any one passionate path.
They’re not like a contestant on the Voice who knew from an early age that they always wanted to be a singer.
They haven’t expressed any real interests in anything but winning the next video game, watching some crazy YouTube video, or hanging out with friends (which are all important teenager experiences)!
Current Career Path Catch
Students go directly from high school to college where they pick a major that puts them on a career path for life. Yet, when did they take the time to truly explore their passions and interests to find the perfect job that will make them happy, fulfilled, and successful in their life.
As a parent, we know it’s our obligation to help our kids find their way in life. We want them to find something they love, fulfill a purpose, and achieve a path of financial stability when they leave home.
How do we support exploration without causing stress and anxiety about what they are going to do when they grow up? Which is only a couple years away! Are they going to college? Trade School? Right into the workforce? How do they avoid being one of the 73% of employees that are actively disengaged in their job?
These are the thoughts racing through my mind as we start talking about their grades and activities in school having an impact on the college they should attend. Where do they want to go to college? Is it one that supports what they want to do? But what do they want to do?
I created a way to do so at home. That’s my job as a mom. See where my children need support and help them get what they need.
I’m not perfect at it. My first summer experiment didn’t go necessarily as planned, but I do have a few more years to help them discover. We didn’t get through as many careers as I’d had hoped. But we explored and that’s what matters.
My goal is to provide an environment in which our teenagers can freely explore opportunities in the safety of our home. They can ask questions, learn, and trial anything that interests them without judgement or negativity.
I want them to discover what is out in the world without feeling the anxiety, stress or pressure of providing for themselves during the process.
As a society, we’re using colleges, internships, and early jobs which trap young adults into a career that they don’t want to pursue for life. Their path gets chosen too soon because they’ve invested precious time and money they don’t have (college loans) which forces them into a situation where they feel they have to take the job just to pay back what they’ve borrowed.
The Framework for Finding a Career
If you currently have students entering middle school or high school, start with supporting your teenagers with these five steps in career exploration:
- Select a Career
- Learn and Research
- Discuss the Possibilities
- Explore Experiences
- Seek Opportunities
The goal is not to limit the conversations, ideas, and exploration. Your teenager is just beginning to discover a world of vast opportunities. There’s no need to limit the possibilities.
Gaining awareness and exposure helps them find what excites them.
As they begin to explore, their personal interests and desires may be awakened and help them explore in directions that they may not have considered without knowledge.
As they get closer to needing concrete decisions in their Senior year, then they can begin to narrow down their list of “career” choices, but until that time, no opportunity or career should be dismissed.
I recommend they keep a journal or list of the different careers they explore and what their initial thoughts are as they learn, such as:
- How felt once learned about it?
Are you Ready to Give it a Try?
Your goal is to provide your teenager with a framework that gives them exposure to experience a variety of careers without any commitment to one.
1. Select the Career
Let them pick a career to study, read about, or learn about for a week or two. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has Occupational Outlook Handbook which contains a comprehensive list of careers broken out by categories with an explanation of what the job entails, outlook, typical education level, median pay, and more.
2. Learn & Research
They do their own research. There are so many resources available today to explore careers. Have them spend a week or two learning about the career. Here are just a few that can get them started:
- Local library. Beyond the traditional books on subjects, autobiographies or biographies, many libraries offer career services, free courses, specialized newspapers and magazines.
- Internet from Google to YouTube as well as a variety of colleges also offering introductory courses for free.
- Documentaries (individuals in that particular field), podcasts, etc.
3. Discuss the Possibilities
Discuss what they learn at dinner time. If you’re familiar with the subject or know individuals in that subject, then you can share valuable insights.
Be careful to avoid any judgmental comments or questions. You want to be able to discuss the jobs and not inject concern or fear based on what you know of the occupation or your teenager’s current grades, skills, or “perceived” ability to be successful.
Here’s an informative article on how to navigate through your own limitations on how you see a career, “How to Help Your Child Find the Right Career Without Being Overbearing.”
4. Explore Experiences
If they express interest in learning more, then set up a meeting with someone in the area or go to an event, or something that aligns with the career, give them exposure through the real world.
If they want to explore more, are there individuals that they can speak directly to that you know in your network? Or places you can go to experience the career from the outside? For example, tours, businesses, or offices that may let you come in and see what they do first hand.
Many governmental agencies offer ways to preview the work done in their fields. Maybe there’s a class where they can get an introductory exposure to the skill or activity.
5. Seek Opportunities
Allow them to explore the opportunity if they want to learn more. Look for opportunities through the local Chamber of Commerce, local magazines, and newspapers where the teenager may be able to see a career first hand by volunteering or interning for a short period of time.
Career fairs, job fairs, and college fairs are conducted throughout the year. Get these on your calendars and go into them with two to three
As a parent helping guide your child in a world filled with opportunities, knowledge is one of the biggest gifts we can give them. As they discover themselves, you can provide them with a framework to match their growing sense of self with the career they want to pursue.
At this point, your purpose is to provide exposure, not to make “lifelong decisions.” Providing an atmosphere of curiosity and exploration allows teenagers to keep an open mind of all the possibilities life has to offer without feeling the pressure of having to make what feels like the ultimate life decision of what they to do for the rest of their lives.
Your teenager is exploring and discovering.
Right now, my teenagers have learned about screenwriters, fiction writers, engineers, movie directors, audio engineers, musicians (guitar playing), and tv film (current subject in school).
I’d love to hear from you or your teenager. What have they discovered? What are you learning about your teenager? Has this exercise been helpful for your family?