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How To Help Your High Schooler With Career Planning

Your teen’s senior year of high school is when the questions start trickling in about their future plans. What will you do after high school?  Do you know what career you’re interested in?  Are you going to college? What will be your major? We live in a society that frequently asks our children, at a relatively young age, how they would like to spend the next thirty-five years of their lives.  Did we know at their age?  For some of us, yes.  For most of us, I’m guessing, the honest answer is no.

Perhaps adults ask teenagers these questions just to make conversation.  Perhaps it is because we realize that it would have been helpful, when we were young, to have known the projection of our careers. So, what can parents do to help your high schooler with career planning?

It would have certainly been helpful for me to have more help planning my future career.  After changing my major from Marketing to Social Work and then to Undecided, I remember meeting with my college counselor at age 20 for guidance.  It was a whim to stop in.  Her office was conveniently located on my way to a class, and she happened to be available.  I was frustrated that I had already spent energy and tuition on courses I might not need.  

We met for about 30 minutes. During that time, she asked me a question I’ll never forget:

“When you need to get something done but procrastinate instead, what do you like to do?”

The answer came easy.  I liked to read, talk about literature, and write.

“Then do that,” she concluded.

I switched my major to English and began taking courses toward an Education license.  For over twenty years, I’ve been doing what I like to do.

Perhaps there is an important reminder for us parents here.  Perhaps we should consider that same question my college counselor asked me decades ago: What do you like to do?

To help your high schooler with career planning, let’s first take a step back to notice what they love to do.  Let’s take a moment to focus on their ‘procrastination’ hobbies: the activities and pursuits they’d rather be investing in themselves. What comes naturally to them? What do they really love to do? That might be the answer that unlocks many options for exploring their future career.

I remember a student I had years ago.  She struggled with motivation in school, and occasionally, I caught her scrolling on her phone through images of athletic shoes.  

“Look at the colors on this sole,” she’d tell the student next to her.  “Check out the lacing on this one,” she’d say.

We had a conversation one day about her plans after high school.  She didn’t know what she was interested in and told me she currently worked at a shoe store and spent any free moment she had looking up cool shoes.  

I offered, “Wouldn’t it be even more cool to be the one designing the shoes?”  

Her eyes lit up.  Moments later, she was googling college courses in graphic design, textiles, and marketing.  It was clear that it had never occurred to her that a person was behind the shoe design – and that person could be her.

Once the door is opened to that possibility, other doors also open.  This student soon learned that many people are part of the process of bringing shoes to her front door.  She learned what an entrepreneur is, and she even thought about what it would take to open her own shoe store one day.  She found a website that informed athletes on which shoes were best for various sports and leg muscles.  That led her to think about physical therapy, and soon, she was researching careers in athletic training, sports psychology, and athletic directing.  

It’s the best starting point that gets the conversation going to help your high schooler with career planning.  

Knowing what your high schooler enjoys doing regularly, what their true passions are, and what they might be naturally gifted in is the key to opening doors to future career choices. All the outside influences from teachers, coaches, parents, guidance counselors, or anyone else who has wonderful intentions can be very helpful in guiding our kid’s career choices. But what’s most important is that your child takes time to identify their tried and true interests and skills that are worth pursuing and developing into a career.

This reminds me of Richard Scarry’s children’s book, What Do People Do All Day?  This classic picture book shows various town settings with all of its community members.  There is a mail-person delivering letters, a mother caring for children, and a pilot soaring happily through the sky.  

Something about this classic book feels so delightful.  In its illustrations, it tells a wonderful story: one of community, collective work, and the idea that we all play a role in our town.   

Perhaps this is what teenagers need to be reminded of most: our roles should come relatively naturally to us. Those roles may likely change at some point, too.  As we grow older, we prioritize in new ways, and we learn more about ourselves – perhaps with less influence from all our outside resources.  There is some comfort in knowing that our initial career ideas may not be our only ones.  There is some relief in understanding that careers, for many adults, change right along with them.

It will take some hard work no matter what career your high schooler chooses, of course.  It will take some rolling up of sleeves and investing in learning new things.  Whatever road they pursue toward a career, the journey will help them grow in so many ways and learn more about how they want to spend their days. It’s exciting to have our high schoolers dream about their future and whatever they choose to do! Focusing on their favorite endeavors is the best way to start.

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