To Influence Your Child’s Career Decisions, or Not?


To Influence Your Child’s Career Decisions, or Not?

As a parent, you almost certainly do influence your child’s career decisions. But, how much influence should parents have over their child’s post-school decisions?

Research and surveys from Australia & the UK clearly show that parents play a significant role in career discussions at home as their child approaches the end of their schooling. Parents try to influence the career choice, the choice of course, as well as the tertiary institution. And finally, parents still believe that a university degree will enhance their child’s prospects of future job security and earning capacity.

As parents, we are wired to want the best for our children, and do all we can to ensure that they are succeeding at whatever stage of their lives – be it playground games, friendship groups or achieving at school.

But when it comes to career decisions, parents sometimes need to be reminded that this is someone else’ life and while they may need support and advice to reach a final decision, ultimately the decision must be owned by the person her/himself.

During my years as a career coach, I have seen the knock-on effects of excessive parental influencing of children:

  • Aspirational parents who exert undue influence to the point that the student feels powerless to stop the juggernaut of inevitability. No-one has taken the time to listen to the student’s thoughts and ideas. Where the student is not academically up the high expectations placed on her/him, failure to get into a course, or failure once studying, can be catastrophic for both the student and the family.
  • Mid-life career changes where people who did succeed in their parents’ chosen career for them, but hate it to the point that they are willing to commit to further study and retraining to achieve their own career goals. This is a huge undertaking, and is often in a completely different direction from their first career. While there are many transferable skills that they take with them, effectively they are starting at the bottom of the ladder again.

Tips to Help You Positively Influence Your Child’s Career Decisions:

  • Remember that career decisions are not a single event that occurs as students go through Year 12. It is a much longer process where they develop an accurate understanding of themselves, and of exploring their options and where their place in the world might be.
  • Self-knowledge is something that children acquire through their different experiences and interactions over time. This awareness can be difficult to identify, and some children will reach adulthood with little self-awareness. Fortunately specialist psychometric career assessment tools* exist that can speed up the self-awareness identification process, and many schools use these tools for students in Years 9 & 10 as a basis for further career discussions.
  • Early discussions are critical. Don’t leave these discussions until half way through Year 12! The more we engage with our children in open dialogue and brainstorm together, early on, the better the end result. Discuss, support and influence your child’s career decisions in a family setting over the dinner table, with friends and colleagues. Encourage your children to ask questions and find relevant work experience opportunities.
  • Don’t be alarmed if your child changes their “dream career” idea often. This is great news! It shows that they are thinking about their future & weighing up pros and cons, even at a subconscious level.
  • Acceptance. Learn to accept the reality that your children’s ideas may be different from your own views, and come to terms with their academic capabilities and limitations. If parents lack this acceptance the result can be damaging to their relationship with their child, and sets up both parties for disappointment and possibly failure.
  • Know that if your child’s school is not able to provide sufficient access to careers guidance, there are external, qualified careers coaches that you and your child can talk to.

Remember the saying: ‘You can lead your horse to water but you can’t make him drink’?  Your children are young adults, and need to be treated and respected as such. Facilitate and guide their career decisions, help with research and drive them to Open Days for sure. But remember that at the end of the day, it is their future and their decision to make.

If you have questions about helping your daughter or son with their career decisions, or would like to organise a career assessment and feedback meeting, please get in touch.