I’m sure you remember your parents telling you as a child that you could be whatever you wanted to be when you grew up. Of course, at the time, your mind wandered to being a cowboy, or cowgirl, a superhero, or my all-time favorite, a firetruck. Whatever your young imagination came up with, it’s probably not what you ended up being. (I’m going to educate you now, so If you have a severe fear of education, I suggest you navigate away from this page now). (By the way, a fear of learning is called sophophobia). Anyway, this period of jumping from one career choice to another is called the fantasy period, for obvious reasons. It is during this period that a child may decide they want to be a cowboy, regardless of their intense fear of horses (equinophobia).
The next period of career decision making is the one I want to focus on. The next phase is called the tentative period. This is when children, usually around the age of puberty, start to seriously consider the career paths in front of them. They look at the requirements for different jobs and evaluate their interest in each of these careers. They also tend to start asking their parents, teachers, and other adults about careers, which is where the problem begins. The usual response of the adult is either to encourage whatever career the child has brought up, or to simply tell the child that they can be whatever they want to be. Another response, telling the child that they need not worry about a career yet because they have plenty of time, is one that tends to come up a lot, especially during the beginning of this period.
So, why are these responses bad? Let’s go in order. If the child is considering being a lawyer, and the adult has full belief that the child has to potential to become a lawyer, then encouragement is fine. But, if the child has no work ethic, and minimal potential to actually succeed in that career, maybe encouragement isn’t the best option. If the child spends all of their time trying to enter this field, and they don;t succeed, they will be very disappointed, and frustrated. I’m not saying that blatant discouragement is the way to handle the situation, but maybe help the child look into the requirements of the field, and help them understand with is involved. Exposure to other fields is not a bad idea either.
Telling a child that they can be whatever they want to be is not only the least helpful thing to say, but it is also unrealistic. Let’s be honest for a minute, not everyone is suited to be a doctor, and not everyone is suited to be a teacher. This applies to every field. Someone who has little patience and limited people skills, probably won’t do very well as a counselor. Someone who passes out at the sight of blood probably won’t make it through medical school. Someone who struggles in math, probably won’t do well as an engineer. You get my point. When children start looking seriously at careers, they want to find something that they will do well in, and that they will enjoy. Telling a child that they can be whatever they want, just isn’t realistic; save that for the younger kids.
Finally, telling the child not to worry about it because they are too young, or they have plenty of time to figure it out, is terrible. Don’t ever say this to a child. I remember starting to think about careers in middle school and being told “don’t worry about it”, and “you have plenty of time to figure that out, don’t worry about it yet.” So I didn’t. I went through middle school focusing on school, and passing my classes without thinking about a career. I went to high school and was told that I still had time. So, I focused on passing, and friends, and having fun. Then, senior year, I was suddenly expected to know what I wanted to do and commit to a career path. When a child starts thinking about careers, or says that they don’t know what they want to do, help them. If you tell them to put it off, they will. And then they will have severe stress and anxiety when it comes time to choose.
A final decision doesn’t need to be made at thirteen, but a few ideas floating around in their head is a good thing.
For those of you wondering, the third and final stage is the realistic stage. This usually takes place in early adulthood when the person starts taking steps toward getting into their desired field.
A lot of people say they are worried about the younger generation’s ability to grow up, and leave childhood behind, but most of the generation was never encouraged to seriously consider their own abilities and how they can be applied. Instead, a lot of young adults now were told as children that they can be anything, and given an unrealistic idea of the options available to them.
The next time a child talks to you about a career, be realistic.