3 Ways to help kids prepare for careers

I am not an expert on child rearing, but I am an expert in career planning, so it seems to me that I should be pretty good at helping my kids find careers. Here are things I’m doing:

1. Exposing them to the idea that career is important.
I do a lot of career coaching, and I do most of it in the car, while I’m driving the kids long distances. The coaching makes the drive better for me, and an unplanned offshoot is that the kids are learning about how to focus on issues surrounding a career. The best quote from the back seat: “Mom! Tell him to take the Myers Briggs test!”

2. Make plans so you are ready to steer the kids when they are ready.
Everywhere I go I am thinking about what my kids will do for a living. My older son wanted to be a potter, I (disregarded the problem of likely poverty and) got him an apprenticeship with a local potter. Then he wanted to be a paleontologist, so I told him we are going to go on a dinosaur dig so he can see if he likes that. He says he will.

I try not to push, but I confess that I have a plan for his career already in the works: First go on a dinosaur dig, then send him back to the same place to become certified to lead the digs. Then help him get an internship working with a university paleontologist, and figure out how to leverage that relationship to get a free ride into college.

3. Encourage the kids to have career discussions of their own.
When other adults think I’m out of ear shot, they quiz my kids. Just to see if they are learning anything. They quiz the kids in math. Probably because adults don’t remember enough science or history to come up with a fast, furtive question.

My youngest son has heard it so much that he said the other day, “Mom,  I need to learn some math.”

I said, “Okay. We’ll start today. We can do fifteen minutes a day.”

My older son said, “That’s so stupid. Why would you learn math? The only thing you can do with that is be a cashier.”


“How about paleontology? I think that’s a good career because you get paid whether or not you find anything.”

“Okay. You’re right. Mom, I don’t want to learn math. But I don’t like paleontology. I like fashion. And I know what girls like. So I’ll be a bra designer.”


22 replies
  1. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I read this and thought YES. I am the opposite example, someone who went through all of my childhood without a thought of careers.

    My parents were teachers, and when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I just shrugged and said, “teacher”. It was all I knew. Which kills me, because I was always inventing little businesses and posting them on my bedroom door. Imagine if someone had helped me turn my ideas into something real! I was just supposed to get good grades, go to college and then…something would happen?

    After a few years in college I took a web design course and loved it, so I took the next class. It was too hard because everyone else in class had been geeking around in their spare time, coding. I couldn’t keep up. I didn’t know I should have been developing skills on my own.

    So this is my long way of saying I love what you are doing. I’m not a parent, but you have changed my mind about homeschooling – at least the non fundamentalist Christian kind of homeschooling.

  2. Tina H.
    Tina H. says:

    I recommend a book I think you’d really enjoy: Thriving in the 21st Century by Barbara Frank. Barbara is a retired homeschool mom – graduated all four of her kids, including the youngest who has Down’s syndrome – and she knows her stuff on the topic of career training.

    • Meg
      Meg says:

      Thanks for recommending the book. I just started having serious future-planning talks with my 8-year-old daughter. The career trajectory for females who hope to have and raise their own children someday, is different from that of males. Women are in their prime career-building years, at the same time that they are in their prime family-building years, so they either have to marry at 15 and get into serious careers once their kids are in school (which prevents the need to suffer a serious and often career-killing multi-year hiatus) like a friend I knew from India, but which is really not advisable in the US because people aren’t socialized to be adults capable of raising families at that age; or, they have to get off to a very good early running start, so they can achieve financial independence and many valuable contacts for later, before taking a multi-year hiatus and hoping to reboot their careers after, or else redefine a career that allows them to homeschool if that’s also a goal. In either case, the career trajectory for a woman has to be different from that of a man, unless she never has a child.

      Having a family also affects a man’s career trajectory, but not in the same ways, especially when the family in question values the primacy of breastfeeding and maternal-infant bonds.

      I have 10 years until my daughter is a legal adult, to prepare her adequately for commanding her own future, and that’s not a lot of time. I’ll be looking into that book!

  3. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    I actively steer my kids away from anything based at a university. I’m very surprised you would encourage your boy to be a university paleontologist. My husband has a PhD in a science and I have a MS and what a waste of time that was. Not to mention 1) no jobs and 2) universities are about to implode as better cheaper ways of getting educated come on-line.

    That said, when my son comes up with career ideas, such as professional soccer player, French chef in France, lawyer, I am often not successful in biting my tongue. Which I should do, and let him figure out on his own that these are not viable career plans (at least the soccer player and chef. at least he’d get a good workout and learn to cook).

    This is a great blog topic and I think there’s a lot more you could say about it that would be helpful. You could even write a book on this topic. Parents need help in this area….because kids are getting into their 20s with no job and no clue and no motivation. Maybe we ought to stop hauling them here, there and yonder to various “activities” and instead put them to work at home and in our place of business!

    How about exposing them to the work world NOW? How about putting them to work as part of their unschooling? How about having them start a business?

    Talking about it in the car is so insufficient!

    How about the parents who will only pay for their kid’s college education if the degree is in business or engineering or something otherwise likely to lead to decent job? Or parents choosing to invest in a franchise instead?

    How about the book DIY U?

    • Patrick
      Patrick says:

      How is being a professional soccer player not a viable career path? It most certainly is. Just because very few people do it, doesn’t mean it’s not. I know, I was almost a professional player.

      If your kid is good enough and has the passion for it, then he can make it. If he isn’t good enough, then he’ll know himself and won’t pursue it.

      This is the problem with a lot of parenting now: you guys want your kids to have a career path that is “safe”. And so you teach kids which career paths are “viable” and encourage them to take the typical path. But what’s wrong with unconventional paths? If your kid loves what he’s doing and is okay with the uncertainty that comes with trying to be a professional soccer player, or a french chef, then why not let him do that?

      • Melissa
        Melissa says:

        I am seeing tons of adults in their 20s who are still supported by their parents. That will not be me. He can go for soccer, and I will pay for club, but yea he needs something safe too.

        I think also that parents can give their kids some tips on what might or might not be a suitable career, given the child’s skills and personality. My parents gave me zero advice and it did not serve.

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          I played professional volleyball and most people who made it — who actually traveled with the pro tour — were living with their parents. I didn’t live with mine, but I was really at the edge of poverty. It was a hard life. I wish people could see that side of being a professional athlete.


          • Meg
            Meg says:

            Pro Football and basketball players in the US do not live in poverty with their parents. That pro volleyball players apparently do, does not signify much about the financial viability of pro sports in general. I am willing to wager that if there are such things are pro yo-yoers, they too live either in poverty, or with their parents. Just noting that there are different outcomes depending on the sport.

          • Kimberly
            Kimberly says:

            I have to disagree, the likelihood of your child being a professional athlete is very, very low compared to the likelihood that they will work in the careers that most people have (a bit of sarcasm, if you didn’t notice),
            I won’t go out of my way to pay for sports clubs and etc for my sons. Most kids are just in sports to please their parents, anyways. I’d rather give him the opportunity to develop skills that he’ll most likely use.
            Besides, most athletes are not successful solely based on their athletic ability (Tim Tebow, Maria Sharapova, Christian Ronaldo). So just because he is “good” doesn’t mean he will be successful.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        30 years ago every boys dream at some point was to become a fireman. Most of them outgrew that career plan. Why should kids be super career conscious at an early age? Why not let them develop their interests? Is that not the whole point of homeschooling?

        • Melissa
          Melissa says:

          Yes I agree completely. We need to support his interests and any form of initiative. Because otherwise he feels we squash his initiative to pursue something because we are concerned there are no jobs for lawyers and soccer players, etc. I tend to let my mind go to the longer term, when realistically his career plan is an idea in the present moment that WILL propel him forward and he can make adjustments later…

          I will I will I will do better with this!

  4. Natasha
    Natasha says:

    How adorable is your son. They already seem very career savy – they know to find a job at the intersection of what you like, what you are good at, and what is needed.

    I like fashion (what you like), I know girls (what you are good at), bingo! Bra designer (girls need bras).

  5. Mary Ann
    Mary Ann says:

    I see you think like I do. I’m always 3 steps ahead thinking about how my kids can turn their passions into careers.

    While reading your post, it was nice to swing from the irritation I always feel at the mention of homeschoolers being quizzed by friends and relatives to laughing at your sons’ conversation. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    If your son is actually going to be a designer and not a stylist, he’ll need to know arithmetic, geometry, and ratios and proportions. If he’s involved in the business side at all, he could benefit from learning about microeconomics which involves calculations and mathematical models.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for this comment, Lisa. I am so not fashion-oriented that I didn’t see the difference between stylist and designer until you pointed it out. Also, my son loves math so this seems like a great opportunity to show him how to use it.

      The research about how adults should find careers is that they should find out what’s entailed in the day-to-day life of a career — it’s so hard to tell if you are not close to someone who knows a lot about that career. (Lawyers and filmmakers are notoriously surprising to people in this regard, for example.)

      Lisa’s comment makes me realize that the same is true for helping kids find a path – the parents really need to educate themselves on how other people have done the path.


  7. Brea
    Brea says:

    Sewing is my hobby, and I can say that I have never used so much math as when I have been doing fitting adjustments to patterns. Pattern making involves even more. Even just designing outfits out of pre-made clothes involves ratios.

    Example: http://www.alreadypretty.com/2012/07/a-crash-course-in-the-golden-ratio.html

    If you want to get him some resources on fashion design, for men’s clothes I’d recommend David Coffin’s book Shirtmaking. And if he’s serious about ladies’ undergarments, there’s this: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1851776168/?tag=ptrunk-20

    • Meg
      Meg says:

      Not to mention that cashiers these days, do not need to know any arithmetic at all, to do their jobs. Their jobs are to scan things and occasionally push buttons, not calculate anything. However, hawkers at open-air markets, do regularly perform arithmetic calculations, such as counting back change, because they generally have a simple cash box or change apron, rather than a register. So there are still technically cashiers who use mental arithmetic.

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