• Daniel Jenkins

Four Tips for Helping Your Teen Choose a Career Path

"What Should I Do After High School?"

When a teenager enters their junior year of high school (or sooner), they begin to wonder what life will look like for them after graduation. “What career should I choose?” “Should I go to college?” “What college should I attend?” “What am I called to do?” These are all reasonable questions for anyone at that age. The problem is that most teenagers either receive too much direction or no guidance at all.

In response to those big life questions, many parents fall into one of two categories:

1. No Guidance

- In this situation, parents will bow out completely and say, “That’s up to you. I support whatever choice you make.” Or some parents aren’t involved and supportive at all. Considering that you’re reading this, I doubt the latter situation applies to you. Teenagers with no guidance can feel overwhelmed, make poor decisions, or no decision at all.

2. Making Decisions For Them

- This is when a parent already has it set in their mind what their teen should do. Some good examples of this are when a parent says things like: “You’re going to college.” “You should be a doctor or lawyer… like me.” “Get a government job. They have health benefits and retirement funds.” Or, “I know you want to be an artist, but there’s no money in that.” Teenagers in this situation feel like they’ve been put in a pipeline and have no control over their lives.

Where do you believe you land on that spectrum? No guidance, or making decisions for your teen? Maybe even somewhere in the middle? Regardless of your answer, you may still wonder how you can help your young adult get off on the right foot. Over the years, I’ve had many opportunities to guide teens in making their own plans for life after high school. Oftentimes, the decisions they make simply validate what they already knew. In other situations, students have decided to pursue an opportunity they had never considered as a possibility.

If you're ready to guide your teen through their post-high school decision-making process, here are some useful tips:

1. Highlight Serving Others Over “Work”

Far too many teens, and adults for that matter, enter into the workforce without knowing what work really is. Most teens look at “work” as this thing they have to do to earn money to do the things they want to do. Sure, we all need money to sustain our lifestyles, but to focus on the money or our own desires as the goal is missing the point. I believe people will experience far greater joy and authentic success when they focus their efforts on serving others well. When people properly focus on serving others, they will find meaning, value, and purpose in their work.

2. Expose Their Strengths & Passions

Author, speaker, and career expert Ken Coleman calls the intersection of your top talents and passions your “sweet spot.” When your teen’s strengths & passions are exposed, they are finally able to start considering how and where to serve others. A great resource we use in Self-Leadership Academy is CliftonStrengths for Students. The assessment will reveal your teen’s top five strengths out of thirty-four possibilities. We also utilize Dan Miller’s Classic DISC Profile from 48Days.com. Other ways to discover your teen’s strengths are to ask them questions like:

  • In your school environment, which academic subjects tend to be the easiest for you to get a great grade?

  • What tasks or activities do people often ask for you to complete or participate in?

  • What skills come to you naturally?

  • What types of things do friends, colleagues, or family usually seek your input for?

The answers to those questions could reveal areas where your teen is strong in. When trying to uncover passions, I often encourage teen’s to answer some of these questions:

  • What activities are the easiest for you to lose track of time doing?

  • What social causes do you tend to get fired up about?

  • If you could spend your time doing something without having to worry about getting paid, what would that thing be?

  • Is there anything you really enjoy doing now, but you believe there is no way you could make a living from it? If so, what is it?

  • What gets your blood boiling? What's a problem in the world that you'd love to fix?

  • What issues or stories in the news predictably fill you with indignity and outrage?

Feel free to make up your own questions to guide them through this process. As always, I encourage you to leave the questions open-ended as much as possible and not guide them to your desired outcome.

3. Encourage Them to Get a Job

One of the absolute, most surefire ways of discovering career areas to pursue is to actually gain experience in the work environment. But, according to Pew Research Center, only 35% of teens held a job in summer 2017. Even less, 28%, held jobs throughout the school year. These numbers have decreased substantially since 1989 when 57% of teens held summer jobs.

Admittedly, there are many factors which go into this. In high-achieving areas, teens often feel pressured to secure straight A’s in high school while filling their schedules up with numerous after-school activities. It’s not uncommon for a parent to make a statement like “School is your job right now.” As a result, many teens don’t step into their first job until they’ve graduated high school, or even worse, after completing a four-year degree.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, approximately 90% of students considered themselves proficient in “Professionalism/Work Ethic” while only 43% of employers agreed. Likewise, 71% of students considered themselves proficient in leadership while only 33% of employers agreed. There is a clear gap that our education system alone doesn’t fill.

4. Setup Shadow Days or Mentorships

This is one of my absolute favorites. When your teen has combined their strengths & passions and has come up with different areas of career interest, help them setup shadow days or mentorships. If you’re not familiar with a shadow day, it’s when your teen can spend a day with someone in a particular field learning what it’s like to do that job. It’s a great opportunity for your teen to gain clarity in what they should pursue after high school.

When your teen comes to you and says, “Mom & Dad, I want to be a…” encourage them to actually meet with someone who does that particular thing. From what I’ve witnessed, more people are willing to share their insights with teenagers than any other demographic. There seems to be something special about having a young person who wants to do what you do. People are more generous and willing to share their experiences than you might expect.

If you implement these steps, I am confident your teenager will grow up to be an extraordinary adult who is more prepared than their peers. They will also likely experience more joy, fulfillment, and authentic success in their chosen careers.

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