Teens – What Do I Want to Be When I Grow Up?

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Teens are often conflicted. Depending on their personal family situations, there are higher and lower degrees, yet being confused in high school is a common reality. Now, as if there are not enough growing pains to deal with, teens are pushed harder than ever to try and figure out what career they should be doing for the rest of their lives. When my son was in 8th grade, it astounded me to learn that he would have to choose a “career track” in high school. Now that he is in his junior year, I’m still not sure how meaningful his “career track” decision was. The good news is that we’re talking about fields of interest that will eventually shape his college direction. The time to start is now. Do not wait.

Even though career may not be the first thought on a young teen’s mind, there are job-oriented seeds that can be planted in the early high school years (and sometimes earlier) that could eventually develop into genuine interests leading to choosing a college major or career path as the first jumping off point, and eventually toward a career goal. To find hints of potential career goals for teens, parents and teens only need to look at their son or daughter’s early childhood interests when most kids declare what they want to be when they grow up.

My son is interested in engineering. He loves physics and math. The doors should swing wide open to him as long as he is able to define the areas of engineering that inspire him. He is also a bowler. So one of the areas he has considered is designing and engineering bowling balls. We are going to look into internships for him at a local company. He may be inspired to pursue this, or end up looking into other possibilities. This is all part of the process of discovery. And it starts now!

Here are a few tips to get your teens thinking about honing in on a few passions that can help define a college major and eventual career path:

Stay focused on your teens innate characteristics:
No one knows this better than you, the parent. As an entrepreneur, I have always thought how great it would be if my son chose to go into his own business. But one day he said to me, “Mom, I don’t want to work for myself.” As tough as that was to hear, I am not going to challenge him as it will only lead to conflict. He’s only 17, so of course that could change. Even though he is an exceptional artist, he has not expressed an interest in pursuing that avenue either (at least for now) Can you hear the sigh? Really listen to what your child says and what actions they take and introduce them to options within the scope of their expressed interests. You can always “sneak” in a few more ideas as long as you do it within the scope of their current interests (i.e. I would like to show my son where they make the designs for the bowling balls, which requires some artistic ability). At this age, it’s important to just listen because they really do have opinions – galore!

Encourage your teen to think creatively about career. Introduce your child or teen to the idea that there are multiple ways to tackle the same problem or to think of a a possible career path. Try brainstorming possible career directions by taking one interest such as art and looking at how it can be used it in a variety of fields such as graphic design, health, communications, food even banking or the financial industry. Then take another and do the same thing, and so on until you get to the “ah ha.”

Try a few new things out at least once. It’s really OK to be a “Jack of All Trades” when it comes to learning new things that could lead to a lifetime of developing a passionate interest-career.

Acknowledge career-related successes. Remind your teen and yourself that by taking action toward learning, doing or trying something new that might lead toward a better understanding of a potential career path is a “win.” For example: spending some time reviewing potential careers in the Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/OCO/, successfully completing a class on a subject of interest – even a high school elective on something fun are all successes that should be celebrated.

Consider enlisting the help of a career counselor. If you or your teen are looking for a way to minimize confusion, and would like help in navigating the career path waters toward a real direction, career counseling can help provide the structure, support and accountability to arrive at a real direction and action plan for the future.

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