For most young people their family has the most influence on their educational and careers choices. With the educational landscape changing everyday, it can seem nearly impossible for families to know about all the options and some young people instinctively limit their choices to the options that their family has the most knowledge about. Having open conversations with your son or daughter about all their options will be immensely beneficial to them and show them that you are happy to support them in their decision making.
A trained careers adviser can give support to your son or daughter, exploring all the different options available and offering the opportunity to discuss their ideas, questions and concerns. Talking to someone who is an outsider can offer new perspectives and the chance to discuss things without the worry of upsetting someone they are close to. But of course there are plenty of things that you can do to support your child with their careers exploration, so here are a few tips:
Talk. I’m sure this is no surprise, but we are all busy and sometimes it is tricky to find the time or a good way to open the conversation. Look out for opportunities like upcoming GCSE choices, moving into year 11, coming to the end of college or an apprenticeship or possibly another young person you know coming to theses points. This can give you an opening to start a conversation. You could even use this website as your “excuse” (I read something online the other day…). Just ask if they have started to think about their next step or even further ahead, try to find out how much they know about their options and if they know where to get help at school, college or university if they want to find out more. Also, talk about your own experiences. What did you struggle with when choosing options? How did you end up doing what you do now? How are you enjoying your work, are you loving it or thinking about changing? And be aware, as with everything else, how you deal with and talk about your work life will be soaked up by your youngsters, for better or worse. (If you are after some inspiration and tips for your own career, have a look at the Cheerful Careers section.)
Encourage curiosity and don’t put on lots of pressure (If you possibly can). This can be very hard to do, as we all worry about how our not so little ones will fare if they do not start to make some decisions soon. But often this can backfire, particularly if you demand they choose a career path now, so they can start choosing the right options. Some young people are ready very early to choose a specific path, but even then many will change their mind. Most of the young people I speak to in year 11 for example are still undecided. This isn’t actually a problem, provided they still take the trouble to explore their options. The only thing they have to make a choice on is the next step, and there are many ways of keeping options open if they are not quite ready to focus. Discuss their ideas and worries if they will talk to you, and let them know it is ok to be unsure, but that this is not an excuse to not at least look at the options. So if you can, take them to college, employer and university events, encourage them to talk to different people about their work and how they go there, and help them to arrange some work experience. If this is related to a career interest, fantastic, but actually any work experience can be helpful to develop ideas and find out about personal preferences around work. And if you need to sell it to your teen, it looks great when they apply for part time work later.
If you like personal development I recommend having a look at some of the books below. I have found helpful, both personally and when working with clients. There is also some interesting research available now, looking into how teenage brains are different to adults and how this influences their behaviour and decision making. Understanding why your teenager is doing something in a certain way can often make it a little less stressful for you as a parent and a little easier to offer the right support. There are many great books available so have a look around. Here are a few I have read more recently and found very interesting.
If, like me, you hardly ever have time to sit and read a book, I highly recommend audio books. That's how I do most of my reading since becoming a parent.
The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist's Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adult by Dr Frances E. Jensen
When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink
Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina
The Upside of Stress: Why stress is good for you (and how to get good at it) by Kelly McGonigal
The 100-Year Life: Living and working in an age of longevity by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott
The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks
The One Thing by Garry Keller and Jay Papasan
Take some time to find out about the choices your child has. It will help you to support them better and might make you feel a little less worried, or at least more prepared. A-levels and university are most definitely not the only road to a happy and successful career. The education system is changing all the time, and the world of work even more so. The biggest challenge is that we are trying to prepare young people for a career in a world that will be very different to what we experience now. They are very likely to change careers several times, experiment more at the start of their work life, take career breaks, retrain and also work a lot longer. Knowing that you as a parent are there to support them in making their own choices, and mistakes, rather than expecting perfection at every step, can go a long way in making a young person more confident in creating their own future.
If you are looking for somewhere to start your research, have a look at the resources section.