By Christine Powell, Ed. D.
As a parent, you play a unique role in supporting and framing what success looks like to your young adult. Navigating the often-unchartered terrain of figuring out what the future holds can be a challenging time for both parents and children alike. Supporting your child in making decisions that impact their future is not a difficult practice, but it is just that, a practice. The following are a few suggestions to aid you in offering support to your child so they are better prepared to make informed decisions about their education and career choices.
1. Nurture Them to Develop Self-reliance
Children thrive in a nurturing environment. When a child feelsvalued and loved, they will develop self-confidence. Confidence is key for children to make informed decisions about their education and career choices. Helping your child to develop as a confident young adult may mean you love them enough to let them fail. This may seem counterintuitive, but loving them without always trying to fix things on their behalf helps them develop perseverance. Support your children in their decisions, but let them understand there are consequences. This lesson is much harder to bear once they are out of high school, so let it happen a few times in a structured and supported place.
2. Take Notice of Their Capabilities
Each young adult is a unique combination of talents, interests, passions, strengths, and motivations. You should pay close attention to the areas your child shows interest in and where they shine. In this way, you can highlight their capabilities, and speak to their strengths. By observing and discovering your child’s abilities, you are better able to help them in their education and career exploration.
3. Be an Informed Guide
As your child develops new areas of interest ask questions to seek understanding. Ask about the classes they enjoy taking and the ones they don’t; most importantly ask “Why?” Have open and non- confrontational talks about grades, teachers, their friends, future goals and ambitions. These subjects are not off limits to parents as many teenagers would have you think. If you do not regularly have an opportunity to share, now is a good time to start. Showing an interest in your child’s daily life is not being nosey. Practicing communication is important and conversations at home are different than the ones students are having at school or with peers. Knowing your child well helps you be an informed parent, and can inform options that may be of interest in further education and possible career opportunities.
4. Share Your Journey
Start by sharing information about your career path. Sharing information about work from a first-person perspective is powerful. Seize on teachable moments about your own personal experiences with education and career decisions, and let your child inquire about areas they have interest in. Your education and career path may have been a seamless one, but many educational journeys are not so straight forward. A young adult may need to hear that traversing higher education and the labor market offer a range of experiences. Invite family and friends to share their career journeys and take the taboo out of talking about work.
5. Seize the Opportunity
Carpe Diem. When you are out with your child, have them put the phone down and engage them in a conversation about some of the different jobs in the community (restaurants, retail, banking, education, public service, etc.). Discus qualifications or skills a job may require, what are the pros and cons about certain jobs, what level of education is typically needed, and what are the opportunities for growth in a career sector? You may not have all the answers, but a quick Google search will let you keep the discussion rolling along. While you are on-line, visit a local college website, plan a campus visit, and talk about programs and educational pathways that lead to career tracks. There is no cost to visit a college campus and walk around, an important first step to your child ‘seeing themselves’ as a college student.
6. Promote 21 Century Skills
Help your child to develop a set of skills valued in both higher education and the workplace so they are fully apprised of what is needed to be successful in both. These competencies, known as 21 century skills include: 1) Time Management: the proficiency to effectively manage their time to include meeting deadlines and being punctual 2) Teamwork: the competence to work collaboratively as a contributing member of a team, with the aptitude to realize other people’s perspectives. 3) Problem Solvers: Utilize problem-solving abilities, which include asking questions and applying strategies to solve challenging issues or dilemmas. 4) Effective Communicators: To be an efficient communicator beyond just texting and the use of memes. Young adults need to be able to be articulate in both written and oral communication forms to include emails, essays, and presentations 5) Critical Thinkers: To be a critical thinker you need to use information from a variety of verified sources. It requires thoughtful synthesize and evaluation of information to form rational and logical answers. Help young adults learn these skills at home, as research suggests they are sorely lacking in many high school graduates.
7. Be a Role Model
Children learn largely by observation and expectations. Their aspirations, beliefs, attitudes and motivations are often influenced by their immediate surroundings; which include you- their parents. Embrace lifelong learning and encourage conversations centered on skill development as a lifelong process. Show your child that learning does not only happen in school by encouraging them to find out more about different industries and related careers, by seeking out career counseling at their schools, supporting them in volunteer work in the community, or helping them procure a part time job or internship to glean experience.
In closing, these 7 practices offer a starting point for parents. The ways you encourage, talk about, and expose your child to future possibilities will play a role in building confidence and knowledge for them to make informed decisions. These suggestions are intended to lay a foundation for how to begin to navigate the challenging space between your support and your child’s future. Begin the conversations now.