How can we help our children choose their careers

Published: May 20, 2018 at 11:19 am

Last Updated on

There can be no argument that life is unfair! If a child is not sure about “what to do” after 12th standard, it is a stressful time for everyone. Joining a course that has “good career prospects” is a guaranteed way to get a “job” and not a career. Understanding the difference is the key to life-long happiness. In this post, I discuss ways in which we can help our children choose their careers. I am no expert in parenting but I am lucky to have come in contact with children in their 13th, 14th and 15th standards (college freshman).

First of all, it is simply impossible for everyone to have careers. Even with all this automation and artificial intelligence, there are plenty of jobs to be filled. There is no shame in any work as long as it honest, but those who get a job must start managing money right from day one while those who aspire for a career can do so after several years. Read more: Three Key Factors that decide how we achieve our financial goals

What is the main difference between a career and a job? In a job, you just need some minimum qualifications to “do as told”. A career person needs higher qualifications and often needs to be super-skilled. Their advancement is primarily based on their skills and training.

Make no mistake, our children cannot afford to start earning after just a UG degree. A PG is mandatory for them and even that may only result in a job.  So we need to plan well and ensure we have enough money to pay the fees. Read more: How to plan for your child’s education and marriage

For God’s sake stop thinking, I will make them take an education loan for their PG as that is what I did. The whole idea of having a child is to ensure they have a better life than we did. Too many parents go, “when I was young, I did not have X or Y facility and still did well”. Dude, your children are growing up at a time very different from yours. Today 5 years represents a generation gap. So we cannot parent them by clinging on to the past. We must adapt fast but not lose a basic sense of necessary vs unnecessary.

So how can we help our children choose their careers

The first five points are directed at older parents (children in 8th standard or above)

1: Manage our money well and ensure there is no pressure for them to start earning. In spite of meagre pensions, my parents gave me 14-year window after school to get a permanent position. If I do not beat that, I am a failure. In fact, this is my dream: What if our children never had to work! (not to taken literally!)

2:  We need to give our children time and space! This is the most important step. Only a few children are focussed and determined about what they want to do after school by 8th/9th or 10th standard. Most of them have no clue. Do we as parents have the financial stability and the mental maturity to give our children time to decide for themselves? We will know the answer only when the time comes.

Will we give them a “year off” after 12th standard if they wanted time to decide or if they wanted to take an entrance exam again? Losing a year is better than our children losing themselves.

3: Recognise that the apple does not fall far from the tree: Our children may be growing up in a different era, but they still have our genes. If we were only a below-average student, we probably should be happy if they are average students. Of course, we should not tell them that in so many words! The point is, we should have reasonable expectations from them. Boy, parenting is full of tough calls!

It cuts the other way too, even if we were A-graders all our life, our children need not be and we will have to come to terms with this without ever expressing our disappointment out loud.

4: They may have no special skills or talent! Despite our best efforts, they may not know what to do with themselves, not have any particular interest, not display any skill or talent (at that time) when they are ready to go to college. They may have to take up the well-beaten path, but our job to help them choose a living continues. If we give up, they might too.

5: It is not over once they choose a degree! I have seen kids head east, turn right back, head west, take a turn and settle down happily up north. So the point is, their lives are not over after they make a choice post-12th standard. That is just one module and they can always change modules at any time. If there is one positive aspect of the internet it is this: people can change jobs or even careers at any time, if they have the will to do so.

The remaining points are directed at all parents.

6:  Teaching children to fail gracefully and push them to bounce back is the right way to earn self-confidence.  Many parents in this generation make the mistake of praising their children too often and for no reason. We must learn to price our praise high and not confuse encouragement with praise.

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On the one hand, we have parents making children believe they are the best for petty achievements and on the other hand, we have parents who will not accept anything but the first price. Both approaches are extreme and harmful. We will have to focus on the journey – the importance of hard work and make children be happy with reasonable outcomes

I know kids who were always school toppers but fell below in college because 1 in 10 kids around was a school topper. The kids recognised this, but the parents did not! Grades are important because they test your discipline to fall in line with a system, but they are not that important! Average students often do well for themselves, they just need time.

If they fail or lose in an activity, we must make them believe that with the effort they can bounce back. If they fail, we must teach them to look inward and not outward and start complaining about the system. Teaching them the importance of hard work is crucial and we need to create opportunities for this.

7: Encourage them to be individualistic: Parents often confuse independence with individualism.  A child who knows how to take care of them themselves inside and outside is an independent child. A child who can make decisions for themselves and be sure of what they want is an individual. Ideally, we need both. Life will teach them independence the hard way if we don’t.

It is up to us to provide them with the space to develop as individuals. This means we give them time to think – do nothing. Sit on the balcony and think. Not stuff them with activities after school, not put them in the company of other human beings (including us) at all time in the name of socialising. Discourage watching too much TV or computers or games.

We will have to create an environment of leisure. Make them think about the good and bad in the world. discuss it with them without being dismissive.  This means we have the time in the first place! If we are always busy with work, children will suffer.

8:  Keeping it real, but not too real!  Children have fantasies about how great the doctor profession is or how wonderful the life of a scientist is. This is necessary, but we should also discuss the negative aspects of each profession without bursting their balloon and how to tackle them. It is hard, but no one said parenting is easy.

9: Always discuss alternatives: To become a scientist, you must do this, this and this. If you fail to qualify, these are your choices …. Unless we discuss alternatives and prepare children for failure, they will remain scarred for life.  Hard work does not guarantee success – this is one of the most uncomfortable truths of life. We must first appreciate this before helping our children.

If our children still have trouble deciding (and many will), we must provide them with the emotional and financial support to change their life path when (and if) they decide.

I am not sure about many things life, but I can guarantee you that kids who are average or below-average become “successful” once they discover a drive and listen to their calling. We should let them listen in peace.

Just as the aeroplane steward instructs us to put on our oxygen mask (if cabin pressure falls) first and then help our children, we need to get our finance, health and inner peace in place first so that we can be there for them. If they still have trouble finding happiness, well we tried. We have our own lives to worry about.

Here are some Fantastic online learning resources for kids and adults

Apologies if this sounded preachy. It is just some loud thinking and much of it is based on interactions with my students. Now over to you: how do intended to help your child choose a career?

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Pattabiraman editor freefincalM. Pattabiraman(PhD) is the founder, managing editor and primary author of freefincal. He is an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. since Aug 2006. Connect with him via Twitter or Linkedin Pattabiraman has co-authored two print-books, You can be rich too with goal-based investing (CNBC TV18) and Gamechanger and seven other free e-books on various topics of money management. He is a patron and co-founder of “Fee-only India” an organisation to promote unbiased, commission-free investment advice.
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  1. Highly debatable topic Professor.

    Just like so much money is chasing so few stocks, so many are chasing so few professions, everyone wants to study Engineering because everyone else is studying, and why Engineering? because you get a job at the age of 21 right in your college as the recruitment happens right in your college.

    Then again, I don’t criticize the middle class families, as I am one. The parents simply want to have better lives is all and a Software or other kind of Engineering job provides that. Such a job also gets you married good. As of now, if I am a Guitarist in a band in Bangalore and I get paid 60K per month, I may still not find a girl to marry because her parents don’t understand it, but if I am an Engineer I get to select.

    If only we had a system where a child could make a career out of his talents and which also gets him a spouse. Perhaps in a couple of decades we could see a different society. I am positive because I could see the change happening (selecting a partner by themselves part) and I am happy about it.

  2. >Recognise that the apple does not fall far from the tree

    Another reason why it’s important to manage your money well – your children will take after you in that respect too 🙂

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