Contrary to what you might have heard, parents are still most influential when it comes to young people’s decisions about their educational choices. Peers rank high when it comes to weighing up what to do in any given scenario, but parents’ views generally trump those of the majority. So when it comes to offering careers advice to your teen at what can be a delicate stage in their development, it is best to approach with care. Here are my top 5 tips.
Tip 1: Choose your moment
Don’t expect young teens to adhere to the rules of conversation that adults are comfortable with. Often they hate sitting still, don’t like to look you in the eye and would rather be anywhere else than sitting opposite mum and dad who are requesting serious discussion. Think how you feel when someone sits you down for a formal chat, it can be nerve-racking, right? And then imagine that they want answers! and are demanding to know what you are going to do with your life right now! They want to know you are committed, motivated and ready to do whatever it takes to get there. If sitting in this hot seat, wouldn’t you simply grunt and nod before hitting the eject button?
So choosing the right time to chat is crucial. Rather than grabbing a moment when they arrive home from school tired and narky, think about when they are happiest and at their most relaxed, and gently broach the topic then.
Tip 2: Multiple ‘smaller’ conversations work better than a “once-off” chat
Your role as parent during this journey is to ensure they are fact-finding, reflecting and revising their views and opinions over time. So the “once-off” conversation that you had imagined around the dinner table is replaced instead by a process that takes on board their thoughts and feelings and responses to what they have learned along the way.
The conversation about career choices is a critical one and ideally would take place over a period of time rather than in one chunk. As a first step, perhaps when out and about on journeys, enjoying a leisure activity or shopping together, gently observe what you admire most about them as individuals. It may be that you like a particular way they handled a situation or overcame a difficulty; perhaps they have qualities such as perseverance, generosity, compassion or are a great team player.
By giving them feedback on the way in which they come across to those around them, you are helping them to construct a view of themselves that is positive and life-affirming, and that they can build on. If they feel valued for who they are as individuals and know that their parents have faith in them and their abilities, it sets the tone for a mutually respectful and fruitful conversation about their future.
Tip 3: Model an approach to decision-making
When the moment arrives when you do broach the topic of career choices, you will need to model the decision-making process. A “coaching model” provides a useful way of approaching this stage. We don’t want to come across as dictators, but rather as those who are open to hearing their thoughts, feelings and perspectives. Allowing them the time and space to “hear themselves think”, means that they will be more likely to gain the clarity they need to make rational, sensible decisions. If during this early stage in the conversation, they confidently announce they feel like chucking it all in and living in a caravan at the bottom of your garden with their new boy or girlfriend, keep calm and keep listening!
The “soul-searching” stage is an important one. Help them to reflect on who they are as individuals with guided questions such as: What do you really enjoy doing? What do you find effortless? What gets your heart racing? Where do you learn best? Which teachers’ lessons have you enjoyed and why? What kind of people do you enjoy meeting? Who do you admire?
At this point, you can begin to think about possible next steps in education as you are trying to encourage them to find a fit between them as individuals and the provision that best supports their needs and aspirations.
Information-gathering on target provision comes next. Walk around the campus together during the day, have a coffee and soak up the atmosphere. Read the website and go through the prospectus. Think through the practicalities of getting there on a daily basis from where you live. Encourage your teen to ask around; young people already attending there can give advice, or alumni offer a more retrospective view. Encourage informal chats with those that work there so you can both learn about the particular ethos and culture of the setting. During and after these trips out, encourage them to mull over what they are thinking with family and close friends, as in this way they will be in a much stronger position to make a final, confident decision.
Participating in the whole decision-making process can generate excitement about a chosen path – which is great – because if they aren’t motivated to go, why would they bother working hard once they get there?
Tip 4: Nudge but don’t nag
Your role as parent during this journey is to ensure they are fact-finding, reflecting and revising their views and opinions over time. Ultimately, at the end of this process you want to show them that you trust their judgment because they have taken time to carefully “weigh-up” all factors.
It is right to expect them to have reached a decision about where to go next at the end of this process and indeed deadlines are there for a reason. So whilst mulling it all over is great, nudging but not nagging them towards a final decision will be important. You expect them to take these decisions seriously, to research them and think them through for a reasonable time, but there has to be an end-point.
Tip 5: Celebrate the outcome together
When a decision finally emerges about where they want to do a work placement, attend a course or college, celebrate the fact you made it through the process together and that you feel positive about the outcome. Try and embed the above approach to decision-making into family life so that it becomes part and parcel of the way they think and how you as a family unit approach important decisions. In this way, the responsibility for the outcome becomes shared, and no matter what happens next, your teen will feel supported, heard and comfortable sharing how they find the next chapter of their educational adventures.
www.keystone-aspire.com (Hertfordshire based/provides a mentoring service for young people)
Kathy September 23rd, 2015
Posted In: Blog posts