Tips for Talking with Your Teen About a Career - SALTER College
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Tips for Talking with Your Teen About a Career

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A mother and daughter have a friendly discussion about her interests and what she would like to do after high school.

These suggestions can help you guide young people towards sound choices about the working world

If you live with a teen, then you know how hard it can be to get their attention, let alone engage them in conversation on a topic outside their area of interest. Asking “What do you want to be when you grow up?” comes naturally to many adults, but it’s not likely to inspire someone in high school to talk openly about their interests, fears, and aspirations. The last thing you want to do is to make the young person you care about more stressed out, or for them to shut down.

We’ve got some ideas for ways to approach the topic of life after high school, so you can invite conversation and keep a dialogue open. You’re giving the teenager some tools so they can investigate. Put your own agenda aside, at least initially, to have the best chance of helping them get to know what they want. Try some of these suggestions, and help set the teenager in your life on a path of exploration—which is what a career should be.

Choose the right moment

If your teen is uncomfortable talking about the future and how they see themselves in it, then approach the subject gently. Pressure to perform for you on this subject can add to their stress, which they may already be feeling from teachers and their peers. Face-to-face interactions may be too intense and feel like an interrogation, so choose a situation that’s more relaxed. Initiate a conversation that can meander, so ideas can come up naturally.

A car trip can be one opportunity—just the fact that you don’t have to make eye contact can make it easier for some teens to open up. Let there be plenty of time to come back to it, such as over a longer drive. This relieves you both of feeling the need to come to some sort of realization or decision within a narrow window of time. A walk or a bike ride can also be a good, relaxed time to introduce the topic.

Ask open-ended questions

Let the teen know that exploring career options is a process, and you’d like to begin a conversation that doesn’t all have to happen in one sitting. You want them to feel they can come back to you, when they’ve had time to think and investigate on their own.

Invite them to consider what they’re good at, what they like to do, and work they’ve heard other people talk about that sounds interesting. Be careful not to prescribe a certain response. Stay away from “yes” or “no” questions, which are likely to end the conversation. Invite your teen to “wander around” topics that are interesting, out loud with you. This could include schools they might like to attend, programs they’ve heard about, or internships they could find. Help them see that talking with adults can be a source of ideas and possibilities.

Encourage online research

Some teens will need a bit more structure to keep the process moving. Suggest they spend a certain amount of time every week exploring one or two career options that interest them. They can do much of this research online, so point them to some resources that will be useful, such as:

  • CareerOneStop: This nonprofit, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, offers overviews of many careers as well as self-assessment tools, guides on training, and local resources.
  • Education Planner: This government resource provides online surveys and videos about a range of careers. Other sections talk about industries that are likely to be hiring in the future, as well as how to prepare and pay for school.
  • Occupational Outlook Handbook: This site contains hundreds of career profiles, organized alphabetically. Each one includes the outlook for that job, the salary you can expect, and training required.


Encourage conversations with others

A teenager is not likely to understand that networking often means simply initiating conversations with people they already know. They have a network, through their friends, teachers, coaches, and mentors, and each of those people know dozens of others who are probably happy to talk about their own career paths. These real-life testimonials can be a valuable resource for a teenager, to see a profession in a meaningful context.

Of course a guidance counselor is the designated person the teen should reach out to, so encourage them to schedule regular conversations over the school year. Find out if they’re willing to attend career days at their school, which can trigger new ideas. If your teen has a part-time job—a great way for them to get to know themselves as a worker—ask what they like and dislike about it. Help them pay attention to strong feelings about a particular field, which can guide their decision making. As long as there are new options on the table to consider, it’s fine for them to rule some things out.

Encourage a process of empowered decision making

Once your high schooler has a list of areas they’re interested in, talk with them about writing down the pros and cons of each one. Show them that making things concrete can help them move beyond the ideas floating around in their head. You are supporting a teen in thinking critically about a decision that may involve emotions and identity, so don’t press too hard. Invite them to engage, but also let them take some responsibility. They need to begin to develop ownership over these decisions, and you should show you respect them and their ability to find their way.

Engage the practical side

At some point, gently encourage your teen to take into account the practicalities: are there jobs in your area in this industry, or would they have to relocate? What kind of schooling would the job require? Is the schooling affordable for your family? These questions should not shut down any conversation, or limit a certain career path entirely. However, they can guide the teen’s decision so they come up with a plan they are confident they can pursue.

Follow some of these strategies, and you’ll see that engaging your teen around career possibilities can be productive without being painful—for either of you! The young person in your life may be daunted, but show them you’re there to encourage and support them as they evaluate their interests, values, and ambitions. With a little research, they can soon be on the path to a career that will suit and satisfy them in the long term. We wish you both good luck!

This post is part of the Salter College weekly blog. Contact us today to learn more about our various career training programs, including Culinary Arts and Medical Assisting. We also encourage you to request more information by calling our West Boylston campus (774-261-1500) to schedule a visit. We look forward to hearing from you!

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