For parents, there a fine line between providing guidance and adding pressure. We spoke to Siobhan Dickerson, Vice Principal at GEMS Winchester School Fujairah, and experienced career guidance counsellor, who has provided her expert advice.
Many parents ask if they should take the lead in their teenager's further education and career planning, or if they should take a step back and trust that their teen will come to the right decisions for themselves. The fact is, no two young people need the same support, and relationships between parents and children are never completely alike. For this reason alone, you need to look at your relationship with your child guide how you approach what can be quite challenging and emotional conversations.
Siobhan Dickerson tells us:
"If you are very involved in your child's life and decision making in general and your child looks to you for step-by-step guidance, they may very well require the same from you when choosing university courses. If they are very independent and used to living their life freely, it may cause conflict if you start to direct and steer them or place restraint on their choices.”
At a time where your teen will need you as a sounding board, it is best to avoid being uncharacteristically dominating or judgemental. Open, honest discussion will likely be the best tool to providing the guidance they need.
As a parent, it is your job to provide guidance; however it is important to consider the guidance you are giving and why you feel the way you do. Are your own missed career opportunities or university experiences influencing what you want for your child? What ideas have been planted in your mind by your own upbringing? Remember, this journey is about your child and their future, not about you.
“You may have your own plans for what you want your child to study, where you want them to live and what kind of job you want them to move into, and your child definitely needs to know these. It might also help to think about why you wish your child to study in a certain place or pick a certain career path. Thinking through your ideas before you broach the subject with your child will give you time to explore your own points of view.”
Supporting your child means not going in with an agenda. If your goal is to persuade them to do things your way, it may be best to rethink this. Siobhan Dickerson suggests a coaching-style approach:
"Give them time to air their views: listen, without prejudice, and keep an open mind when they talk to you. Allow them time to share their ideas, and you can help with this by teasing out their thoughts. Lead them to their own conclusions rather than saying things like “if I were you” or “I think you should”. In my experience, being dogmatic is never effective in helping a child decide what they want to do when they grow up.”
Some people are forward planners by nature, unable to relax until they know what they'll do and how they'll do it. Having a plan does not always mean having a good plan; and these young people may be just as in need of support and guidance as those who appear comfortably directionless. Most adults did not know what career they would go into when they were teenagers, and fantasise about how things could have been better if only they had had a plan. And yet, is a teenager with little experience of the world really in the best position to make all the important decisions, now, about their future?
"It is an often-quoted statistic that a graduating student from the 2020s will have approximately 18 different jobs spanning six careers across their working life. Facts like this can help parents to gain some perspective: Your teen does not need to have all of the answers right now.”
If your child appears to have no sense of what they want to do, you do not need to feel worried. As Siobhan tells us, this is much more common than you may think and there is time to figure it out.
“There are many degree courses that allow student to use the first year of their studies to experiment with different subjects and combinations of subjects until they settle and choose a major. There are also double honours or combined subject courses that teens can choose if they can’t decide between two options."
It is also important to consider the reasons your child may appear directionless. Is this a lack of interest and motivation? Or could it be that they are overwhelmed by the enormity of the decisions they have to make? It may be helpful to break down these big decisions into something more relatable:
"Try asking your teen what it is they enjoy doing and what they can see themselves working hardest at. Alternatively, ask them to explore the lifestyle they want once they are qualified and in the job. Do they want to work as part of a large team or on their own? Ask them which type of workplace they think they would enjoy."
It is great for young people to be ambitious, and often wonderful when parents support these ambitions. As a parent, it is also important to ensure ambitions are possible and support your child to set realistic expectations too, as Siobhan Dickerson tells us:
“Always be realistic with your child about their options. It may be that you or your child have always dreamed they would be a surgeon, but perhaps their science grades just don’t meet the requirements for studying Medicine at university. This doesn’t mean the dream has to be over; it just means you may have to identify other routes into the course or explore alternative pathways altogether. However, a sense of realism and rationality will be needed."
Higher education is not cheap and can vary considerably from country to country.
This may not be something your teen has thought about and without open discussion with you, they may set their heart on something that just is not affordable for you. Talking money with teenagers often is not easy but in this case, it is important you and your child are transparent and realistic early on in this journey. You are not only weighing up the cost of tuition fees, but also accommodation, living-expenses, course related expenses and travel costs. Tallying this up ahead of time, with your teen, will ensure everyone has clarity on where the limits are financially.
Siobhan Dickerson MA (Oxon), NPQH, is an experienced and highly regarded and experienced career guidance counsellor and Vice Principal at GEMS Winchester School, Fujairah.