You can flip this title to “My son wants to be a ballerina/ My daughter wants to be a soccer player.” But either way, when a teen comes to their parent and says they want to pursue professional dancing or acting or sports, a parent’s heart may drop. We love them and are so proud of them, but we know the real world. We know the struggle our children will likely face when entering certain professional careers. How can we as parents help navigate our teen’s career plans? How can we use their experiences in ways to help with choosing a career?
As parents, we start them out young.
We encourage our little ones to pursue an activity almost as soon as they can walk. Dance recitals are precious times! Many of you saw your kiddos in a pack clustered around a soccer ball, all trying to kick it at the same time.
These experiences are great ways for little kids to become more social, to interact with and listen to other adults, and to become excited about something outside the house. We don’t put too much thought into the activity other than they enjoy it (for the most part), it fits into our schedule, and we as parents put up with it.
If our child is interested enough, they continue in the activity they have chosen. Their passion for the activity leads them through elementary and middle school. Maybe they join a team or league or work with a private coach. Taking part in school plays. Performing in recitals every year. Singing in the choir. High school comes, and the activity becomes more intense and more of a time commitment; however, your child still loves it and still has that passion, and so they continue.
Then the student decides they want to become a professional actor or singer or athlete.
We get it! We don’t want our children working in food service as they struggle to get “discovered,” and we know the challenge of success in these types of careers. But we also know how their chosen activity makes them light up inside. How can we NOT support their dreams?! (We would never tell you to not support their dreams!)
In our daily work, we stress the value of sitting down and talking about a teen’s experiences and evaluating how those experiences can provide real support when choosing a career direction. It does not matter what the experiences are…they all have value.
What happens when it is time to consider college, major, and career?
Our Guided Self Assessment facilitators have spent a lot of time talking about the activities our student clients take part in. These activities are time consuming. When they have dedicated so much of their short lives and been so completely immersed in an activity, we can’t really be surprised when they want to make a career of it. Students can value the exercise of thinking beyond the activity—to do some deeper thinking about themselves.
Hearing students talk about their passions reveals a lot about who they are. They start the Guided Self Assessment process thinking they know themselves pretty well, and they may. They are probably motivated teens. Yes, time after time, we find that our interview process helps students make connections on a deeper lever and gain a greater understanding of what self-knowledge really means, and how it can help them.
Teens learn to describe their strongest personal traits values and preferences using vivid words and examples. And, they learn how to apply these qualities and strengths as they take on the new challenges ahead, including selecting a career direction and their educational plans.
Sometimes they simply don’t have the time.
Our students are super busy. An athlete may get up for 5:00 am for strength training, navigate the school day, practice after school, and then finish homework and study once they get home. Eating and sleeping fit in there somewhere, too! These students don’t make the time for self-reflection or any kind of realistic planning or imagining about their futures. Time needs to be carved out for this important thinking. Summer can be the ideal time for many busy students.
Sometimes they don’t want to make a mistake.
Teens involved with sports and performance may be trained to avoid mistakes. We often find that teens have struggled to make important decisions about majors and careers because they are afraid of doing the wrong thing. They don’t want to let people down. They find comfort and safety in the “known”–their activity–where they have found success for so many years.
With self-reflection and the support of a caring adult, students gain an important tool. They have extra knowledge about themselves and a way to access input from within when faced with these types of choices. This reflection is a step to becoming more confident in making decisions and trusting themselves. And that’s a good thing.
So what kind of knowledge can be extracted from these experiences to help students see the world of career possibilities?
As parents, we can see the growth of our children as they participate in sports and other activities. They develop leadership and time management skills. They take on responsibilities and work as a team. We can see these things, but students often can’t. Talking through these concepts and ideas in relation to their own experiences is a way to help them form the connections and take mature steps toward the future at a more accelerated pace. With this deeper look at themselves, natural conversations about how their interests, together with their skills, can be matched up with careers that can be a good fit for them.
Say your teen loves to take improv classes, and they have a gift for it. Through a guided deeper dive into thinking about their activity, students realize the skills they acquired through improv: public speaking, quick thinking, interaction with others, sense of humor, strong listening skills, storytelling, and working together. When adding in their interests and other key traits, students can be guided towards careers that fit and would be enjoyable. Suddenly, students understand how wide and varied the potential career options can be for them.
And, sometimes being a professional dancer is the correct answer.
Of course, it is. We are so lucky to have such talented kids in our lives. Our only request is for everyone to carefully think and plan for all possibilities…to have a Plan B. Parents help students understand the potential difficulties with an uncertain path while supporting their dreams, and students can have a strong plan in place for building professional skills for a separate career that they could also enjoy because they are more self aware and make choices with confidence and clarity.
The future is exciting and full of possibilities. Our amazing children benefit greatly from the support to do the kinds of thinking and analyzing that will make them ready to make the more confident and clear choices for the future.
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