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Career Connector

What’s a Teenager to Do?

My latest career obsession is helping my 16 year old son figure out his future career. Now of course, he’s not worried at all; he has me to do that for him.

Some people think it’s silly to start thinking about a career in high school. They feel it creates pressure, possibly pushing the child toward a path that will lead to unhappiness in the long term. After all, this is the U.S., and we believe in the inalienable right of a liberal arts education.

I firmly disagree. Most of my clients are in their 40’s, 50’s and beyond, and many of them have a nagging feeling that they never figured out what they wanted to do in the first place. Once they got started they simply continued to climb a ladder, increasing their pay and prospects with every move. At a certain point they felt they had too many financial responsibilities to think about making a change. Until change was thrust upon them through a layoff or other event.

The process I use with my clients is no different than the one I’m using with my son. It’s not about pushing them toward something I think they should do, but rather opening their minds to becoming more aware of their skills, talents and what they choose to do when they’re not paying attention.

With the help of some assessment tools to be sure we’re not missing something, and strategic questioning, we can get a great deal of data about what might and might not work in terms of long-term career and life planning. What the assessment tools fail to deliver is the probing around specific career choices—the details that can make or break someone’s interest and success. The other thing the tools don’t do well is to help people understand the universe of careers—there are so many choices.

As a parent, if you’re paying attention to what your child chooses, you can gather enough information to begin to make some suggestions about how his interests gel with certain career choices. You can have him take online assessments to confirm what you’re observing. And you can help him find ways to experiment through classes, internships and talking with people about their careers.

Done with your child, it can be a great source of camaraderie and fun. And it can enrich his future internships and choice of major. I encourage you to do it now, because helping your child become more directed will help him avoid the usual panic senior year of college, when he realizes he has no idea what the world of work holds for him. And that is of course what happened to most of us.

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