We all want what's best for our kids. We want them to be happy and successful. But could it be that you are projecting your dreams onto your kids? Do you know what they want for themselves? Many parents think "good parenting" means making sure your child excels in academics, attends a top college and makes a lot of money.
On one level we know that getting good grades does not ensure getting a great job – let alone result in being happy. In fact, most people are miserable in their jobs. Yet, if our child doesn't follow this conventional path, there's a tendency to think we have failed in some way. Nonsense!
Consider this: Instead of pushing your kid to get the highest grade, find out what your teen's interests and passions are. Here's how. Ask your teen these 5 key questions:
1. What do you want to do all day?
If your son answers, "I just want to play video games," just listen, don't panic. Video game designing is a hot new field. Recently a father and his 16-year-old son discovered that a passion for playing video games can pay off. Granted not all kids who enjoy computer games have what it takes to turn it into a bona fide career. In this case, game artist suited this young man's natural strengths.
2. Which of your natural talents do you enjoy the most?
The best way to approach this is by noting what your child is already good at. Talent is defined as "a natural ability, aptitude or recurring productive behavior." If your teen has trouble answering, go ahead and offer your observations. Just make sure you don't project your dreams onto your daughter. Remember Casey's mom in the movie Ice Princess? Rather than being supportive, this mom let her own preferences get in the way as Casey began to realize her real passion was ice skating, not attending Harvard.
3. Where do you want to do it?
Where you work – your work environment – is just as important as what you will be doing. Most people are dissatisfied or mismatched in their jobs; don't let your teen become one of them. Plenty of people are stuck in an office when they'd rather be outdoors. Or they work in a big corporate environment when they'd really shine in a smaller company. A case in point is a pre-law student who discovered that law is the right career path for her, if she works in a corporate environment, not in private practice with a small law firm.
4. What are the challenges that lie ahead?
Often kids have no idea what will be required of them to reach their career goals. We must help them do their due diligence upfront. For example, a teen who wasn't even keen on attending college didn't know that to become a successful criminologist he would have to obtain a bachelor's degree and that most go on to get a master's degree in behavioral science. Luckily, he found out in advance and switched to another, more suitable path. Don't wait until your teen is in college to find out he's studying the wrong field. The trial-and-error method is expensive and deflating.
5. What might your career ladder look like to reach your dream job?
It generally takes years to prepare for a career. Teens can get a great initial direction in life if they start paying attention to their interests and transform them into a fun job right now – whether they get paid for it or not. Interning and volunteering may not seem appealing, but they can lead to paid opportunities. For example, one budding writer, a junior in high school, wrote for his school paper, and now he is writing a teen column for the local daily newspaper. He has his own byline and is getting paid $15 for each story. This experience will put him ahead of his peers in the marketplace.
These career conversation starters will help your children clarify what steps they can take right now to land their dream job. Remember to keep clear of the parental trap of wanting your teen to succeed at all costs. Get to know who your kids are. If you really want them to be happy and have a fulfilling life, stay away from molding them into your ideas of whom they ought to be.