Parents Role in Helping Their Child Choose a Career Path


As a parent, you are in a great position to help guide your child in their post-high school plans and career options.

By Mike Lincoln, Northwest Advisor, Reach Higher Montana

I am a long-time administrator/educator in public schools. I am a parent of three children who are now finished with college and beginning careers in THEIR chosen career field. I am now beginning a second related career in helping students find a post-secondary education path and career that is right for them. I am learning many things that I wish I had known while helping my children. My children all are successful in great careers. However, those times may have been easier to navigate for both of us had I practiced what I am talking to students about now. 

There are many people involved in the career exploration process, educators, school counselors, admission reps, family members. Each have their own perspective. It is important to not solely rely on the school professionals to guide your child. Parents have been and will always be the #1 influence on helping their child choose a career. This does not mean that the parent has all of the answers but as the parent you are in a great position to help guide your child in their post-secondary plans and career options.

Parents understandably want the best for their children. They also many times hope they follow in their footsteps. Some parents like myself are apt to put too much pressure on their children about choosing a career. As children grow up they have many hopes and dreams of what they want to do when they grow up. Some realistic, some a pipe dream. This is natural in younger years.  But as our children become teenagers and they have no idea what they want to do, then what? When it comes to choosing career, young people are given all kinds of awful advice including: “Choose a prestigious career”, “Choose the career that will give you the most money”, “Choose the safe path”, “A job is just a job”, or “Uncle Jim likes/hates his job, so you should do that”  The key to helping your children is understanding and listening and not telling them what to do.

In the child development classes taken in my education and counselor studies they talk about the pre-frontal cortex and its role in decision making. As the brain sort of remodels itself during adolescence, the pre-frontal cortex is the last to be remodeled. Because of this, teenagers rely on another part of the brain, the amygdala to make decisions which brings in emotion and impulses. Thus it can be difficult for them to plan, and think about the consequences of their actions. Such important decisions as career choices and the training needed being made during this time of brain development is challenging for youth. This is a challenge that I didn’t consider in working with my children.  Students want freedom to grow and explore all possibilities. According to adolescent psychologist Tamar Chansky, many teens jump on the first career track that someone recommends just to avoid being directionless, only to find themselves miserable a few years later.

There are more career options available to young people now than ever before. In fact Dell Technologies states that 85% of the jobs available in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet. This can lead to choice overload. A parent may feel compelled to give career advice but parents are more limited by their own experience than they think.  It is important for them to have a good understanding of what interests their child and what they’re good at. The Montana Career Information System (MCIS) can be a great resource to work with and help them find their interests.  Working together in MCIS can be a fun activity for both parent and child to do together and become a place for discussion about the interests your child has. Chansky goes on to say it is best to have conversations with teenagers about their strengths and interests, rather than a specific career, and then to listen to what they have to say. “If the parent is putting out all the ideas, you wind up with the parent’s dream, not the kid’s.” Talk with your teenage children about what they enjoy both in and out of school. Help them see how they are learning various “employability skills” through their work, hobbies, and extra-curricular activities that will be important to them in the future. Reassure them that by choosing an option now, they aren’t committing to one career for the rest of their working life. Encourage your children to take on a part-time job, work experience, internship, or volunteering when possible. This will help them see the types of work they enjoy and perhaps those that they don’t enjoy.  

Teenage years are bumpy times. Be there for support and advice, don’t make the decisions for them. Know how to navigate the fine line between nudging and nagging. If they are struggling with their decision, remind them they aren’t alone.  If your teenager has no idea what career to pursue and no desire to discuss it, it is time to back off. They may just not be ready yet to explore those questions about their future. They will figure it out, bring it up periodically and leave open the possibility of dialogue when they are ready. You can offer tools and strategies, but this is their work – not yours. As such, your role is coach. Encourage your child to become all that they can become, not try to force them to become what we want them to become. Supporting your children in this way will lead to positive interactions and positive outcomes.

Reach Higher Montana is passionate about helping Montana high school students achieve personal success in education, career, and life. Our advisors can help guide you along your individual path. To find the closest advisor to you, click here. Stay informed, sign up for our newsletter and like our Facebook and Instagram page so you don’t miss out.